Family Traditions for Advent and Christmas

Members from the Children’s Liturgy group at Surrey Hills Wattle Park Parish share some of their family traditions and preparations during the Advent Season…

Advent comes from the Latin meaning coming, it is a season of preparation.  While we regard Advent as joyous, it is intended to be a season of waiting, like Lent before Easter.  The purple colour associated with Advent is also the colour of penance, while the third Sunday of Advent has the more joyous colour of rose as its theme.  The Church has no rules for Advent preparation, but many families have traditions handed down or more recently developed.  At this time, many children in our schools become familiar with the Jesse Tree, which explores the scriptural genealogy of Jesus’ Hebrew family.

The Banks Family

In early December, we head out together as a family to choose a fresh Christmas tree.  It fills the house with that beautiful scent and reminds us Christmas is near.  It’s all hands on deck to decorate the tree whilst the carols are playing in the background.  The children also love assembling a gingerbread house, in particular sticking the lollies on!  Interestingly, there are less and less lollies on the gingerbread house by the time Christmas Day arrives, when we break it up and share it with family.  Christmas will be even more special this year as we celebrate it with loved ones we haven’t been able to see for months.  Just being together will be such a blessing

The Grant Family

We take a train ride into the city to look at the decorations and awesome nativity scenes and have lunch!  Merry Christmas.

The Sabljak Family

At the beginning of each December we refill our family Advent calendar with little chocolates.  A small treat to get the children excited for the month ahead.  Happy Christmas to all.

The Kelly Family

Since the children have been old enough we have enjoyed being a part of the nativity play at the Christmas Vigil, on Christmas Eve.  The children have played various roles and it’s lovely to see all of the parish children preparing and performing on the night.  In the same way Advent is preparing us for the coming of Jesus, they learn the joy and tradition of preparation.  As a family we drive around the neighbourhood looking at the beautiful decorations and head home for mince pies and exchange a few presents.  We wish all our parish a safe and peaceful Christmas.

The D’Costa Family

We begin Christmas celebrations on 24 December with a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner, called Wigilia.  Each family member receives a blessed wafer, an oplatek, pieces of which are broken off and exchanged with each family member, accompanied by good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.  This tradition is linked to the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper.  It is followed by dinner composed of traditional Polish vegetarian dishes, and fish.  The children can open a few Christmas gifts, followed by a drive to some houses in neighbouring suburbs which are adorned with beautiful Christmas light displays.  We enjoy our time together on this special evening, it’s a night that we always look forward to.  Merry Christmas from the D’Costas!

Parishioner Response

The season of Advent.  How can I make it different this year?  Advent I recently learned is

  • A season of waiting – 4 weeks for the 4,000 years the Israelites waited for the Messiah.
  • A season of penitence – purple is the seasonal liturgical colour symbolising waiting, suffering and also Christ’s kingship.
  • A season of preparation – we read in Advent, often in Morning Prayer, the canticle of Zachariah – the father of John the Baptist who “prepared the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3).  Zechariah has met with Mary, the mother expecting Jesus, and he now knows the Christ is to be born soon, after millennia of waiting!  On regaining his voice, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.  He has visited his people and redeemed them.” (Luke 1:68)

This Advent I want to prepare the way for the Lord, to prepare a room in the inn of my heart where He can be born.  I would like to prepare again my spirit to bow down and adore Him.  This year, there still needs to be preparation for Christmas gifts and menus but could I try to accomplish this whilst keeping in the forefront of my mind what I should really be preparing for?  A sacrifice can be considered a true proof of love.  Can I sacrifice some of the “doing” and “getting” of this December, in order to make more time for “being” with the Lord?  This will not be easy, knowing how I spent the lead up to Christmas for the past decade or so!

I remember waking up on Christmas mornings in childhood and having a sense of real awe and expectation, a sense of it being a truly special day, the one day of the year that felt like no other.  It felt protected somehow and it always promised joy and long celebration!  If I succeed in preparing the soil of my heart with prayer and penance this Advent, on Christmas day this year, perhaps I will have again that sense of wonder and anticipation, no longer for the presents and pudding of childhood, but instead for the staggering gift that God actually gave us on Christmas day.  His only begotten Son.  The Word made flesh, to live and to die for us.  And I will join in with joy and gratitude to sing the proclamation of Christmas Day, “Today is born a saviour, Christ the Lord!”


With thanks for lessons learned from the talk “The Spirituality of Advent” by Dr Tim Gray of The Augustine Institute Nov 2020.


The Jesse Tree


Contemplating God’s Family

We develop our sense of identity, purpose, security and belonging largely from our families.  Children learn about love from being loved, and for most of us that love comes from our families.   It’s no different in our faith family.  Just as we each have a family tree, a history of our ancestors linked by marriage and blood, so also does Jesus.  In the Advent tradition of the Jesse tree we trace Jesus’ family history and learn about the love of God for us as revealed through real-life ancestors of Jesus.

What is the Jesse Tree?

A Jesse Tree is either a real tree or a representation of one, decorated with symbols which mark the journey from the birth of humanity to the birth of Christ.  The symbols represent the ancestral characters and major events depicted in the Jewish scriptures and the gospels.  The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah that, “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots”. (Isaiah 11:1)  The Tree is a common symbol throughout scripture, most memorably featured in the fall of Adam and Eve.  Jesus used images of trees, vines and branches to explain the power and life of God.  Jesse was the father of King David.

Thus, in its most original form the Jesse tree illustrates Jesus’ human lineage, from Adam and Eve down to Mary.  It shows the fulfilment of God’s promise of a miracle to the childless Abraham and Sarah, that although both of them were nearing 100 years old, “kings of peoples shall come from her”.

Jesse Tree Origins

The depiction of Jesus’ ancestry as a tree or vine based on Isaiah 11:1 goes back to the Middle Ages.  There is a famous example in a stained-glass window at Chartres Cathedral in northern France, where the tree arises from the side of the sleeping Jesse.  It is usually not strictly limited to Jesus’ royal ancestry, but is a means to tell the story of God’s faithfulness over the thousands of years of human history up to the quintessential moment of God’s grace and mercy – the birth of Jesus.

The Jesse Tree helps us to connect with the humanity of Jesus, who, like us, came from a family line that was in many ways imperfect.

Why have a Jesse Tree?

A Jesse tree is especially useful for helping us enter into the spirit of Advent, a spirit of expectant, joyful longing for the God who loves and saves us.  It is an engaging way to impart knowledge of our salvation history and the momentous place of Jesus’ birth within it.  Thus, while the Jesse Tree is about the journey of the people of God, it also sheds light on our own life journey.

Jesse Tree symbols can either hang from branches or sticks, or can be attached to the surface of poster or fabric hanging on a wall.  There are many styles and sizes or many craft approaches for making your own Jesse Tree symbols.  Use online search engines (e.g. Google) to find a plethora of ideas for symbols.



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