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What Is Advent?

December 1, 2021 | Emily Ford Sytsma

What is Advent?

The word Advent means coming. Advent is a season in the Christian liturgical year that is made up of the four Sundays and weeks leading up to Christmas.  It is a season for waiting. Some Christians and some churches celebrate Advent as a time to prepare heart, mind, and spirit for the coming of Jesus on Christmas Day.

What happens at school during Advent?

During Advent, our daily worship time begins with the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath and ends with adding an ornament to our Jesse Tree.

Our Advent wreath has 4 candles, one each for hope, peace, joy, and love.  We started this first week to light the “hope” candle and will add a new candle each week until we are lighting them all. In this way, we can see a symbol of Christ’s light coming into our midst.

You may have heard your child talk about the tree that we have in our classrooms to help us mark this special season of waiting for Jesus. The children were very excited to see the tree in the classrooms on Monday morning, but although it looks like a Christmas tree, it is NOT a Christmas tree. It is a Jesse Tree!

“The Jesse tree helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth. The Jesse tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David and Jesus was a descendant of King David. We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.”  (Loyola Press)

Each morning at worship during the season of Advent, we hear stories from the Bible that point toward the birth of Jesus. And each day at the end of worship, the children are invited to make an ornament that represents these stories and add it to our Jesse Tree. By the time Christmas is upon us, the tree will be full of ornaments representing the stories that helped us to arrive at the birth of Jesus.

If your family has an interest in practicing your own Advent wreath or Jesse Tree tradition at home, here are a few resources with guides that include readings, stories, ornaments and more:

How will the children celebrate Christmas? 

During Advent, the preschool children will become familiar with the Christmas story. They will help tell the Christmas story during worship on the last day of school before Christmas break. This year, we will still be telling the story of Jesus’ birth but it will be a virtual celebration instead of a live one. We are beginning the process of learning the story and rehearsing right now. Although it will be different from usual, we are looking forward to the ways that technology may make it interesting and fun, as well as more accessible to more people.

As always, we know it will be a truly joyful event. The video will be made available for families to watch at home and to share with your extended family.

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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