Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our Jesse Tree

Nehemiah's stone wall surrounding Jerusalem

The Ten Commandments
When I got married nine years ago I didn't have enough ornaments of my own (despite my grandmother's dogged determination) to fill up the entire tree.  And I didn't really want to buy a bunch of ornaments that I wasn't crazy about just to have them.  What did appeal to me while doing some research on the celebration of Advent was the idea of a Jesse Tree.

A Jesse Tree finds its root (heh, heh) in the verse Isaiah 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit."  Yes, the verse is taken out of context; and yes, it really has nothing to do with evergreen trees, but hey, that is what proof texts are all about.  Basically, the idea is that you decorate your tree with ornaments and items that relate to people/places/events in the Bible.  Therefore, when you talk with your children about these ornaments or friends ask questions, the focus of the message is on God and His love and plan for mankind.

As someone who is always trying to find ways to make my faith incorporate with my life, this was very appealing.

I relegated all of our traditional family ornaments to decorating the evergreen boughs that trim our windows and banister so that they are still useful and set to work focusing on the tree-as-centerpiece idea.

I found several lists online and in books about what would be acceptable ornaments to represent certain stories, and used them as a guide.  Although I have bought many items (sheep, goats, donkey, rooster, clay pot, glass frog, angels, stars, a fish, dove, palm tree, camel, ark, rainbow, scarlet rope, lion, pitcher, shell, bottle of tears) I have had to get a little creative with making others.  The wall of stones and the clay tablets pictured above were two things I made out of kid's clay.

This is a mobile I made to represent Abraham's promise of decedents as numerous as the stars.

Here is a Torah scroll (made of toothpicks, beads and cloth) with Hebrew writing depicting Isaiah 11:1.

And this is supposedly Joseph's coat of many colors.

As you can see none of them are professionally made, but at least they're MADE.  It has taken me nine years to find/create thirty ornaments.  Some have been fairly easy (like gluing together some cake-stand pillars to make to columns of Solomon's temple, or the small rubber snake that I tied to a fake apple).  But there are others that I just haven't gotten around to finding: a globe, a Rook from a chess set (to represent Habakkuk's watchtower), a bundle of grain, trumpet, a crown, a harp, music notes, grapes, a crimson robe, a ladder.

And where on earth am I going to find a miniature set of fire tongs?!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Tree Hunting

When I was growing up we always seemed to get our Christmas tree early - if it was already December 5th we considered it unforgivably late.  I loved having it up for a whole month; turning off all the lights in the house except for the tree lights, the little lighted village on the bookcase, and the wood stove roaring.  I don't know if boys do this at all, but every girl I've talked to about this has memories of this quiet darkness to drink in the ambiance of the season.

So through the nine years I've been married it has been an adjustment  transition nail biting, hair pulling, tongue holding exercise in patience to adjust to my husband's way of doing 'the tree'.

Mostly the years have gone by with my father-in-law cutting down our tree from his property, bringing it over, and putting it up.  I have really appreciated this, as other wise we would have had a tree only three of the last nine years.  Last year we never even had one.  I decided we would wait until Daddy had time to take us so it could be a 'family' event (you know, making memories and traditions for our kids.  I figured it was about time we started: our oldest was already six.).  We waited.  And waited.  And Christmas came.  And went.

So this year, with two kids in school, the kids started pestering me that "I need a tree."  "Why don't we have a tree?" " Mrs. Johnson (teacher) has a tree already."  Et cetera.  I politely inquired of Daddy when a good time would be to go and mostly received a lot of "I don't know.  It depends on my schedule.  I have to do homework all that weekend."  O-kay.

Being the powerful, strong-willed, fully-capable, hate-to-disappoint-my-children woman that I am . . . . . . I called my mom and asked her to drive us to the three farm after school last Wednesday.

A family in our church has a little tree farm outside Molalla up in the hills (Snowline Tree Farm) that I wanted to go to, partly in deference to the Bible's mandate to 'support widows and orphans'.  But mostly because I knew they had two Shetland ponies that Girl fell head-over-heels for last summer.

Grandpa Don and Alex didn't hear us pull up over the barking of all the dogs, so we had a few minutes to wander around and pet the horses before we got around to deciding on our tree.  We always get a noble and I didn't want anything tall (five feet was our maximum).  They graciously started the tractor-pulled hayride and we piled in, excited to find our tree.  I told the kids to shout when they saw one that they wanted.
Boy Two, Nana, Boy One on the hay trailer

And so we set off, very excited to watch the happy dogs chase each other through the tree field alongside.
Posing with our tree.

Just as I thought they'd never say anything someone shouted.  We stopped, unloaded, and walked a little ways through the field finally agreeing on this one.  The boys watched enthralled as Grandpa Don used his chain saw to fell our little bush in two seconds flat, then load it on the trailer. 

 By now, the kids were becoming loud with the pure headiness of being outside, riding behind the tractor, the dogs running, the chain saw, finally getting our tree.  We went for an extended tour ride around the tree field and back to the house, where they shook all the little spiders out of the tree and then turned on the baler at our request.  Alex even had Isaac come closer in so he could 'help'.
Afterward, Grandpa Don measured the tree (five feet) and then we laid Boy Two on the baler and measured him: about four feet.  The other two declined any measuring.

This accomplished and the tree wedged in the car, we ambled over to the enclosed patio, complete with outdoor stone fireplace, colored lights, hot chocolate and cookies, and an ornament-making table.

Robin helping Girl to make her pine cone ornament.

My kids were completely won over.

We got home just as it was getting dark, secured the tree in its stand with only a slight tilt (tilting adds character) and waited to surprise Daddy, whose job it was to put on the lights.

Success!  Daddy seemed quite relieved to have gotten out of bringing home the tree - so much so that I'm afraid he will expect me to do this every year.  Drat.  There's a cloud for every silver lining.

Linking to Snowline Tree Farm

Monday, December 6, 2010

Follow The Star

Our town's Seventh Day Adventist Church has a large complex and grounds where for the last eight years it has hosted a Christmas event called Follow The Star.  Every year in December I hear from neighbors and townspeople "Have you been to 'Follow The Star' yet?" and until now I've replied (in an exasperated and disbelieving tone) "No!"  As in, Can you believe that we've lived here four years and still haven't gone?!

So we remedied that.  At least, a few of us did.

My parents had also heard great things about this event and mom called Sunday evening to say that the time is now!  Let's go!  Boy One and Daddy chose to stay home while Boy Two, Girl and I squished into the back of my parent's Blazer and drove four blocks to the center.  After the initial confusing obtaining of tickets, killing two hours time and returning, we sat in the sanctuary and people watched/sang Christmas carols/listened to a piano player entertain us while we waited for our group to be called.  The best part is always the people watching - Girl was mesmerized by the twirling of a fellow little girl in a sparkly fuchsia dress. 

Our group was finally called and, bundled in our coats, tights, warm socks, boots, fleece jackets, scarves and gloves, we exited the building into the 36-degrees-and-clear night.  The first stop was a little shed where a 'typical American family' lounged in their living room, harried by the holiday busyness and questioning the heritage from whence it came.  Suddenly, we are interrupted by three middle-aged Magi (all of the people we encounter are in costume - really well done) who invite us to come with them as they follow the star to find the new King.  We encounter a shepherd and his daughter, who guide us to Jerusalem.  There are torches that light the concrete path we walk on, and we come to the Temple (plywood painted as stone work - well done) where several older priests are gathered around a man sacrificing a burnt offering.  A woman wants to offer her money to God, but the priests won't let her as she doesn't have enough to buy the 'required coins' to offer.  A man wants to offer a lamb, but he can't afford the ones that are being sold at the temple.  Simeon and Anna are also there, and tell us of the promise of the Messiah.  We move on to Herod's palace to question him.

The Roman soldiers stop us at the palace, sneering that Herod doesn't usually have an audience with 'rabble' like us. (At this point my dad begins chuckling at the actors, their great lines, mild humor, etc.  They were GREAT.  My dad pretty much laughs the whole rest of the outing.)  Herod comes, sits on his throne, talks to the wise men.  He then goes behind a transparent curtain to question the scribes about the scriptures and we see him yell at them and devise a plot to trap the new King.  He comes back out and tells the Magi (and us, their entourage) to go to Bethlehem, where the baby is prophesied to be born.  We leave.

Girl and Boy Two are really buying in to this by now.  The fires at the temple, the towns, etc. are really adding a great tone to the darkness and cold of the night and are filling the air with the smell of smoke.  Girl is a little frightened of the soldiers and the uncertainty of where we are going, what will happen, etc.  Boy Two has pretty well taken off to join the other kids in our group and isn't the least afraid. 

On our journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem we encounter a group of shepherds (a few teenagers and several preteens) and we are invited to warm up at their fire while the Magi move on.  While talking around the fire with the shepherds suddenly there is a bright light behind us and there, suspended between a few trees by some cables, is an angel!  This is the part that really grabs my kids.  The angels tells us about the baby born in Bethlehem and urges us to go visit him, and suddenly a group of angels are illuminated (behind and to the side of the first one) and sing a respectable "Joy to the World".  At this point I'm thinking, These actors must be FREEZING!  They only have on light costumes and many of them aren't close to warm fires.  But they are reenacting the same scenes probably a dozen times or more in a three hour period.  If I were that suspended angel I would be too afraid of moving around and the cables snapping to be able to pull off a convincing performance. 

As we leave the shepherds' fire we are suddenly surrounded by several Roman soldiers on horseback who have emerged from the shadows and demand to know what we are doing wandering around in the darkness.  We manage to get by them and then encounter a mob of poor beggars (most of whom are children) asking for alms.  Our shepherd guide advises us to be careful that they don't pick our pockets.  I wished I had some change in my pockets to give them, just to see what they would do with it!

When our group enters Bethlehem we first must stop at the tent of the official to be counted for the census.  After some finagling, we are directed to an inn to stay at for the night.  We knock on the door and a grouchy innkeeper comes and tells us to look elsewhere, he's been full up for two weeks!  We go through town, many women and children displaying their wares and hawking their goods for us to buy: vegetables, bread, candles, pots, wool, etc.  Very authentic.  The second innkeeper also is annoyed and tells us about the inn at the other side of town.  (The innkeepers may have been my favorite part.)

A little ways on we come to the final inn, where the keeper directs us to his adjoining stable, where he had already sent another couple to stay for the night.  Inside we find Joseph, Mary and their (inauthentic) baby, along with an angel who sings "Mary, Did You Know?" while we watch.  As we exit the stable, our shepherd guide directs our eyes to the crosses on the hill, and mentions why they are there, and muses on them and the new baby.  We finally return to the American Family Living Room for the conclusion of the tour before we are released to the refreshment tent for apple cider and a cookie.

I couldn't get over how many people they must have had to put this together!  There were two or three tours of people moving through the campus at any given time, so there were several sets of Magi, shepherd guides, etc.  and all of the actors at the temple, Bethlehem, the shepherd campfire, the angels, the beggars, the Romans, etc.  And so many of the actors were children!  And all these people played their parts SO WELL.  It was amazing.

We also really liked the real animals: sheep and goats at the temple, horses for the Romans to ride, sheep and a llama at the stable.  I could actually smell the animals before I saw them, and that just added to the atmosphere!  I was mildly disappointed that there weren't any camels (drat!) and a little surprised that there weren't any cows. 

Girl was most impressed by the suspended angel, and reminded me as I put her to bed that night that "The angel said 'don't be afraid.'"  This really made an impression on her, as she mentioned it more than once.  I think the experience really helped the nativity story come alive for my kids in a way that is impossible for most of us to understand, living where and how we do.  I'd love the go again, next weekend!

The program is only for two weekends in December each year.  This link has all the information if you want to go.  I highly, highly recommend it!