The Jesse Tree

As part of our live-more-liturgically experiment, I thought that we would do a Jesse Tree during Advent this year. What is a Jesse Tree, you ask? Good question. I read a lot of Catholic mom blogs, and a lot of them seem to do Jesse Trees, but not many of them explain what it is. So I will explain.

Essentially, it is this: you make (or buy) a set of Christmas tree ornaments, one for each day in December. Each one has a picture and a scripture reference on it, and together they tell the salvation history narrative, from creation to Jesus’s birth. Every day, you read the scripture or tell the story of that day’s ornament, and put it up. (The name refers to Jesus as the shoot growing from the root of Jesse in Isaiah 11 and has a long history in Christian art.) The ornaments can go on your Christmas tree if you’ve put it up, or on a small purpose-built tree/stand/something that can go on a dining room table or wherever is handy. We’re putting them on our tree.

Now, there are ways to make this more or less complicated. Some sets have auxiliary ornaments that can be used if it’s a longer Advent, or omitted if shorter like this year. I decided just to go with days in December, on account of them always being the same; nothing extra to keep track of is good by me. Some years we’ll start a little before Advent, or a little ways in to it, but that’s no big deal. I made the ornaments* just with pen and pencil crayon on card stock, which then got cut out, laminated (this step is fun), and strung. Very cheap, very simple, and hopefully very durable!

*If you google around, there are many different templates, lists of ornaments, etc. available. I found one with designs I mostly liked to copy, and when I wasn’t keen on what they used I would just look up other examples until I found something that worked.

So far I am willing to call this a success for us. Every night after dinner Anselm and Perpetua each get to eat a chocolate out of their advent calendar, and while they’re eating I show them the ornament and tell the story that goes with it. Then Anselm will pick one of us to help him put it up on the tree — high up out of Perpetua’s reach. And that’s it, really. Our tree just has lights and these ornaments on it; we’ll put on the rest of the decorations just before Christmas. Perpetua is still a bit young to be tracking with it, but Anselm is very excited to see which ornament is revealed every night, and it’s really helping him internalise the stories of the grand sweep of scripture. I certainly hope that the Jesse Tree becomes a long-lasting family tradition.