The Jesse Tree
Today, people use Jesse tree kits to help celebrate Advent, sometimes as a replacement for Advent calendars. It is a fun project for those with smaller children, and involves making ornaments to put onto the tree – one for each day leading up to Christmas. There are 24 scripture passages to use, and with each passage there are different symbols that can be used to create the ornaments. These include symbols such as the sun or stars (creation in Genesis), man or woman (Adam and Eve), ladder (Joseph), ark or animals (Noah), burning bush (Moses), pierced heart (Mary), and many more – each going with the related scripture passage.
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As with many of our beloved Advent and Christmas traditions, we trace the origins of the Advent calendar to Germany. Advent calendars first appeared there in the mid 19th century.
Different methods of counting down the days to Christmas were common. Children in Germany often drew chalk lines or hung pictures to mark the days in anticipation of Christmas. Others lit candles each night during Advent. 1851 marks the appearance of the first printed Advent calendar – produced by Gerhard Lang. Lang developed the Advent calendar from tradition handed down from his mother – she would mark each day of Advent by attaching little candles to pieces of cardboard and, as a child, each day Gerhard would take one off. Lang's first printed calendar consisted of miniature colored pictures that would be attached to a piece of cardboard each day in December. Later versions of the Advent calendars were made with little doors to open up each day – the type of calendar we are most familiar with today.
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Advent Wreaths and Candles
The first Advent wreath was conceived by Johann Hinrich Wichern in 1839. He was the founder of a home for poor children in Hamburg, Germany and during the weeks leading up to Christmas was constantly being asked by the children if it was Christmas yet.
He constructed a wooden circle out of a cart wheel and topped it with nineteen small red candles and four tall white candles. Each day he would light an additional candle, saving the white candles for Sundays.
This original wreath eventually evolved into the four violet and pink candle wreath normally seen today. Some people add a fifth white candle to the center to be lit on Christmas day.
The Advent wreath tradition didn't spread beyond Germany until the 1930s but today can be found around the world. The use of three violet and one pink candle comes from the Catholic liturgical calendar where the vestment color for the third Sunday of Advent, Guadete Sunday, are rose colored. In Protestant churches four violet or sometimes blue candles are used instead.
A special Advent Wreath Blessing >>
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Advent and Christmas
Whether you want to read the Christmas story to your children or have a daily meditation for Advent, we've got all the Advent and Christmas books you could want.