One of the Advent traditions that has grown to be a favorite in our house is the Jesse Tree. The idea of the Jesse Tree comes from Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (NIV translation). Jesse was the father of David and Jesus was a descendant of David through Joseph. The Jesse Tree is a simple way of looking at Jesus’s “family tree”. Each day in Advent we hang an ornament on the tree and read a passage in the Bible that tells the story of the promise of Christ starting with Genesis and creation.
We typically read from the Bible and do some Scripture memory work at breakfast anyway, so during Advent the Jesse Tree becomes our breakfast reading. We’ve also tried it at night, but nighttime tends to be more chaotic around here and breakfast works better. It doesn’t really matter when you do it, it’s whatever works for your family.
There are many ways to do a Jesse Tree. You need something to be the tree, some kind of ornaments and a plan for readings/devotions. For the tree itself, there are many options. I’ve seen pictures of people using a tree branch and hanging the ornaments from it. That can make a very simple and beautiful tree. I’ve seen people who make a felt or other wall hanging that holds the ornaments. I’ve seen people use a miniature tree. We use a tree shaped ornament holder that we used to use as our sole Christmas tree when we were first married and living in a small condominium.
For the ornaments you can spend a lot of money or none at all. You can buy them or make them. It helps to have some plan of readings/devotion so you know what ornaments you will need. I have seen pictures of absolutely beautiful or creative handmade ornaments. I’m showed you mine at the beginning of this post so you can see that you don’t have to do that. I made ours out of construction paper a few years ago with lofty intentions of making some nicer more permanent ones over the course of the next year. Didn’t happen. Last year I felt a vague sense of guilt about this as I pulled out the slightly shabby paper ornaments. But this year I realized the kids don’t care at all what the ornaments look like. I might like to have some pretty ones, but it doesn’t make it any less special to them to have the paper ones. So, for now that’s what we have. I still would like to make some nicer ones but my point is that it’s better to do it less than perfectly than to not do it at all.
I use this site for our readings and ornaments. I like that the readings are usually fairly short so that a 6 yr old and 3 yr old can stay interested. There is a Scripture reading for each day and a brief reading that gives a little insight into the Scripture reading. The site has patterns for ornaments that you can print out and use for free. I used these as guidelines for the ones I made. There are many other resources online if you are interested in starting this tradition for your family. The key is to find something that appeals to you and that will work.
For us, this tradition has really helped the boys (and us) see the Bible as a continuous story. It helps us see Christmas not just as a nice story about the birth of a baby but in the context of the rest of the Bible.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord- and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.(Isiah 11: 1-3, NIV)