Advent TreeAnn calls it a Jesse Tree, but I prefer Advent since that's what we're celebrating. What we did was put up our Christmas tree the day before Advent (the 28 days before Christmas) started, leaving the front empty; I put up all our ornaments on the sides and back. Then, using Ann's book and ornaments, we did a little story/devotional each day and put an ornament on the tree representing each story. The stories walked us through the Bible from creation to Christ.
This was our tree with all of the ornaments on it after Christmas. This whole idea was really, really special, and I think we'll plan to do this every year. It was just so neat to keep our focus daily on God's great story of love and redemption, meditating on what that little baby in the hay means to us all.
This particular book's devotionals were pretty deep, and Elias didn't have the patience or understanding to listen to them. He did pick up some of it, though, and he had fun putting the new ornaments on the tree every day! So I don't know if we'll try a different series next year or try this one again to see if he's old enough to get it then. If anybody has any recommendations, let me know!
Inspired by this post on Ann's blog, we decided not to give gifts to each other for Christmas, but only to give gifts to Jesus, Whose birthday we're celebrating. This year we did that in the form of Angel Trees, Adopt-a-Grandparent gifts, and donating food and toys to Share Your Christmas at church. In future years when Elias is older and more able to participate, I think it would be really neat to follow Ann's suggestion and actually pick gifts out of a catalog for such ministries as Compassion International or Gospel for Asia. But this is just another thing that helps keep our focus on Christ and not on the commercial aspects of the American traditions.
In thinking about these things and really focusing on what the holiday means to us, Justin and I both agreed that this was the most we've enjoyed Christmas together since we've been married. It is such a joy to really bring purpose and meaning in what we do!