The Nativity fast will begin on November 15, marking a time for us to prepare our hearts for
Christ’s birth. As Orthodox families, we want to celebrate this time with joyous, hopeful
expectation–not just with sad meals of cabbage soup. Here are some ideas for things you can do to
celebrate the Nativity season in ways that will welcome Christ into your home and hearts:
★ Create a Jesse Tree
A Jesse Tree is like an advent calendar. It counts down the days to Christ’s birth by telling the stories of His ancestry–much like the Sunday of the Forefathers. It’s like a 3-D root of Jesse icon. Jesse Trees are a very old tradition in the West that date back at least to the Middle Ages, but have recently regained popularity.Books and kits for making Jesse trees are available for purchase on Amazon and Etsy, but you can easily make your own out of green construction paper or cute branches stuck in a pot. Each day, when that day’s scripture is read, an ornament is added to the tree. These ornaments might have a symbol on them to remind everyone of the scripture. It’s a very sweet tradition and I’ve used it as a bedtime ritual in my family for each of the days leading up to Christmas. The Antiochian Church provides a beautiful explanation of Jesse Trees and a list of the Scriptures to use: http://antiochian.org/christianeducation/tree-jesse
★ Celebrate Saint Nicholas on December 6th
In our family, the children hang their stockings on December 5th. St. Nick comes in the night to fill the stockings with treats and little gifts. Having the stockings on December 6th makes them a little more noticed and takes a little bit of pressure off Christmas morning. This is a common practice in Europe. This website has many ideas for ways to celebrate Saint Nicholas with children: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/
Here are an Orthodox mom’s ideas for celebrating Saint Nick’s Day which you may like to do also:http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/11/30/st-nicholas-day-traditions-2/
★ Donate to a charity in place of giving purchased gifts to adults
Seven years ago our family faced a tragedy and Christmas was an emotionally difficult time. In our extended family, we’d always exchanged lots of gifts. That year, and for every year since, each family has donated to a charity and the gifts we give are simply knowing that a family somewhere in a third world country got goats, or money has been given so a child with cancer can go to camp, or some other wonderful thing has been done in memory of the family member who died that year. We share what these donations are with the others in the family– sometimes by writing up a little card about the donation and giving the card to someone with a sweet ornament, like this:
These donations give a feeling of abundant joy that is far greater than material gifts would be. Donating to a charity is a way of honoring the nativity of Christ and showing our love for others during this season when Christ has given so much for us.
★ Bake some cookies or send a card to those who are lonely
Do you have any elderly relatives who live far away and are lonely? This is a time of year when they may be feeling especially sad, thinking of so many of their loved ones who are no longer with them. Baking cookies may sound like too much work, but you can keep it simple. You don’t have to bake a lot of cookies- sometimes I just place 6-8 in a small box with a few teabags, wrapped in pretty tissue paper with a sweet note. Who wouldn’t like to get a 6-8 delicious (even if they’re lenten) cookies, or maybe even some baklava? Even a card may mean a lot to a person who is alone. Make a list of three people who would like to hear from you and then simply call or send them each something.
This year, let the Nativity Season be a joyous time of preparation for Christ’s birth and His entrance into our hearts and lives by letting the stress and hustle of the season go and staying focussed on what brings us closer to Christ.