Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Traditions

*Updated below with a new Jesse Tree Link for Rocks in my Dryer*

Momrn2 at My Quiet Corner has invited us to share our family Christmas traditions as we welcome the Christmas season in. Even as I sit and write this, our family traditions are forming in our hearts and minds. You see, my husband and I waited a long, long time to have a child. Fourteen years without a child had passed, but when Hunter was born, we suddenly found ourselves taking a really hard look at how the world celebrates Christmas.

For years, my heart's passion had been giving gifts at Christmas. Many gifts, to be exact, but while I did enjoy giving gifts, my true focus on the meaning of Christmas never changed, because without Christ's birth, I would not have had the gift of salvation, the gift of eternal life, the gift of grace, nor the gift of forgiveness. But still, I would get as excited as a child would, if not more. I love giving people things, but more than that, I love seeing their faces as they open their gifts.

But now that we have a child, I have found that we are spending a lot more time and effort into establishing traditions in our house that actually hold value (yes, more value than a purchased gift). You see, my husband enjoys giving and receiving gifts, too. But he would rather go without gifts, and he would rather place all our time, effort, and true focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Because I love my husband with all my heart and soul, and because I love that he is my soul mate, I enjoy finding small ways to make him happy, and I have found that it has led to my questioning the ways I've done things for a long time... in other words, this year, I've tried to pare down the gift giving, and the flurry of preparations, and find small, but meaningful ways that our family can focus in on Christ throughout this season.

One tradition we will begin this year has actually started a lot of preparation on my behalf, but will lead into 25 nights of reflection, family devotion, scripture reading, and prayer that will be carried on year after year. It is a tradition that I picked up from a dear internet friend of mine, Shannon from Rocks in my Dryer. Last year, Shannon shared with us how her family enjoys a Jesse Tree in THIS POST, and THIS POST, and she shared some insight into this beloved tradition in her family. In THIS POST*, she shared her own ornaments. I have spent part of last year, and part of the past two months studying various Jesse tree devotion books and websites. I have taken devotions from several sources and compiled my own Jesse Tree Devotions with the symbols and stories that take us through the Bible from the beginning of time, through the birth of our Savior on a child's level of understanding. Each night, we will read a story from the Bible, like the story of creation, the story of man's first sin, the story of how King David was chosen, the Ten Commandments, the stories of Esther, Ruth, Rahab, Joseph and his coat of many colors, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, and many more.

Each ornament is a symbol that represents the stories that we'll read. I made the majority of the ornaments using stickers, scrapbook die cuts, paint, fabric, wood, felt, or Sculpey UltraLight Clay. I placed most of them on wooden plaques, and tomorrow, my husband will drill holes on them and I'll add ribbons to tie them on to the tree. Some ornaments I purchased, like a crown for King David, or a Star of Bethlehem for the prophesy of a child being born in Bethlehem. And then for others, I combined items, like a wooden dowel painted gold and glued to a beaded tree ornament to make a scepter for the story of Esther or plastic wolf and lamb figurines that I glued onto a piece of wood. Some I even made out of sculpey clay, like the stones for the ten commandments, a rams head for the sacrifice God gave Abraham in place of Isaac, or a Rams horn for oil for the anointing of a king. It was truly a labor of love on my part. Each ornament will be wrapped in tissue, numbered according to each night's devotion, and placed at the bottom of the tree. Hunter will be able to open one ornament each night and hear a story that will capture his attention, his mind, and his heart. My hope and prayer is that my son will grow to love this tradition. (pictures at bottom of post)

I began another simple tradition last year. I was facing a dilemma ... a toddler + a Christmas tree full of ornaments = sure disaster. So, I made ornaments from cookie dough. I loved how they turned out so much that I've decided to continue keeping my Christmas tree decorations simple and as home made as possible. This year, I'll continue the tradition by adding to my collection of homemade and simple ornaments with homemade applesauce and cinnamon ornaments. I know Hunter will enjoy rolling them out and cutting them with cookie cutters.

Another simple tradition that my husband and I started even before Hunter was born, is that we give our neighbors each a small homemade gift on Christmas eve, with a special note attached to it. Last year, we gave out boxes of homemade cookies. The year before that, I made chocolate cherry bundt cakes. This year, I'll probably pass out homemade Ice Cream Toppings. It's a small gift, but the meaning of generosity and love carries more weight than the actual gift we give.

Finally, I have discovered that our child is captivated by all the Christmas decorations outside. He loves the lights, and loves to touch many of the decorations. We have always kept our decorations to a minimum, with white lights on the bushes, and a lit tree on my front porch. Last year, I added a lit snowman. This year, I was inspired to create a simple outdoor nativity scene that Hunter could touch without fear of it breaking; a nativity scene that could be put outside year after year. I painted faces on various patio pavers, and used fleece to create simple gowns. I added some sparkly foil trim on the angel, and made the baby out of a wooden egg wrapped in white fleece, and placed it in a plastic container (weighted down with marbles) filled with raffia. I really like how it turned out. I know the neighbors and passing cars wont really be able to see the details from the street, but I wanted to spark their curiosity, and encourage them to come to the door for a closer look, and maybe even ask me about it.

Those are some of our new family traditions that we've started this year. The preparation for these items, along with my personal challenge of paring gift giving down and focusing our hearts and minds on the true meaning of Christmas has placed me in a wonderful, reflective mood, and has readied my heart for the celebration of our Lord and Savior.

For more Christmas traditions, I encourage you to go to My Quiet Corner and check out the others that are participating in this little carnival. But mostly, I encourage you to take a really hard look at your family traditions, and possibly, start something new this year that will help your family focus their hearts on Jesus.

Jesse Tree Ornaments:


Robin said...

Your advent idea is awesome. You have gone to so much work but you will never regret it! You are doing a great job at focusing on the Reason for the Season!

momrn2 said...

These are WONDERFUL! The fact that you put so much time, effort, thought and love into each one of them makes them even more special!!

We do something similar to the Jesse tree idea. I checked into it a bit last year when Shannon mentioned it. Maybe I should re-visit it.

Your nativity is adorable! How creative and fun yet still getting the true meaning of Christmas across.

And I think you need to post instructions and recipes on how to make your cookie ornaments. If you already have I missed it somehow! What a fantastic idea!

Thanks for participating and sharing these Fabulous ideas!!

Heather Smith said...

Great traditions GiBee! Traditions that I know Hunter will appreciate for his entire life. Because they mean so much more than a gift from a store!

ellen b said...

What great ideas! I love the Jesse Tree idea of devotions etc. I also really like giving the neighbors something on Christmas Eve. That's very cool...
Blessings on all the events at your house this year!

Queen of My Domain said...

The Jesse Tree is one of my favorites. I'm sure it will come to mean as much to you and your family.

Susanne said...

I love the idea of giving a homemade gift at Christmas to the neighbors. What a wonderful way of reaching out!

That nativity is absolutely adorable and I might just have to make one of my own. What a lovely display to have at your door.

All your traditions are beautiful and heartfelt, Gi Bee!

Carey said...

got a question about your homemade ornaments...from long do they last? Do they last for years? Can you share the applesauce recipe?

Becky said...

Wow GiBee, That is really neat. I am going to do an advent devotion every day for me this year. My boys are grown and not at home, all but one 17 yr old. So I will make it something for me ... for my heart and preparation.

Org Junkie said...

I started the Jesse tree as well last year after hearing about it from Shannon. I really do love it! I would love to know more about the devotionals you wrote though. I had two sets last year and one was way above the kids heads and one was a bit too simple.

SAHMmy Says said...

Great ideas for meaningful traditions! Thanks for sharing!

Michele said...

You're post struck a cord with me. We were childless for 17 years and now have two beautiful boys thru adoption. We are striving to create meaningful, lasting traditons for them. This year is our first year doing a Jesse Tree, in fact I just finished writing about ours. I love the idea of making all of your ornaments for your Jesse Tree and plan to do this in the next year or two. As much as the boys love getting gifts they love the traditions we are creating as a family more.
Thanks for sharing!