According to some sources Advent Calendars were created by German Lutherans and varied from marking the days on the door frame with chalk to lighting 24 small Advent candles or hanging different religious pictures on the wall. (Let's hope those pictures were very small...) Then a company began creating them in the way we're familiar with seeing them in the early 1900's. The point of an Advent Calendar is to countdown the days to the birth of Jesus, but now they've gone very secular and for many have become a countdown to Santa.
A Jesse Tree can be either a live tree, a branch, a banner, or something created out of craft materials. It is decorated either with specific symbols that are used to tell the stories of key Bible events in the Old Testament leading to the birth of the savior and are added each day (at home) or in a group on Sunday or Wednesday (at church). The tree is called the Jesse Tree after Isaiah 11:1, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." Also Jeremiah 23:5, “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land."
There are many places online where you can find a description of possible ornaments and the corresponding Bible verses, two of which are shown below.
What should you do with all this information? Instead of just opening small windows or eating candy every night with an Advent calendar, invite your congregation to start a tradition of sharing the Jesse tree stories while adding an ornament every night. It helps take the birth of Jesus from a single cool event and connects it to Old Testament history. If they still want to eat candy, feel free, or better yet, they can eat special cookies that are eaten just during that time at home. (There is also a children's book that contains the stories.)
Start a congregational tradition of taking the Sunday School hour just before Advent to introduce the Jesse tree, its stories, and the ornaments. You can either find samples of ornaments online for families to create together that Sunday or at home, you can buy them and just hand them out (Jesse Tree book), or you can contact me and I'll give you more creative ideas. The pastor can take a short time during each Advent service to add Jesse tree ornaments to the sanctuary's Christmas tree as well. A few moments of education and a great tradition!