Christmas traditions: Our Jesse tree



(Updated to add: See photos of the finished ornaments here,  a list of stories and symbol for each day here, advent and Christmas tradition ideas here or for a different take on Jesse trees, see our names of Jesus Jesse tree symbols.) 

I know it’s only November, but Christmas is fast approaching. Every year I have grand plans for advent style activities, but before we know it, December has started and I’ve missed the beginning again. Not this year!

In the after Christmas sales last year I ordered a bunch of books and several of them are meant to be read on a daily basis leading up to Christmas. These will be out and plans for our Jesse tree are underway (in my head anyway!)

We have two Christmas trees already – a small one and a much larger tree. I have always loved decorating a beautiful tree and making it “just so” and didn’t want to add the children’s handmade decorations to “my” tree. Thus the little tree was theirs and the other was Mummy’s! As of last year however, I finally let go of my idea of a perfect tree and handed it over to the children. I arrived at this decision after allowing them to help me decorate my tree (after much begging and pleading) and finding the whole episode frustrating and annoying.

Later I sat down and reflected on the whole event. I want to create loving and memorable family traditions that the children will remember fondly throughout their lives and perhaps even carry on with their own family. Traditions are one of the ways we can create family togetherness – they knit us together. Decorating the tree should be a wonderful time of family togetherness and fun; not a time of grumping and correcting about how it was done. Sooo… my tree has gone and the large tree is now the family tree with everything on it (yes, I mean everything, sigh) and the smaller tree will act as our Jesse tree until the number of symbols builds up to the point we need to move to the bigger tree.

What is  a Jesse tree?

The Jesse tree is a representation of Jesus’ family tree. Jesse was the Father of David and God promised David that his kingdom would last forever. It was through David’s  line that Jesus comes and the symbols used on it traditionally represent those in Jesus’ family tree.

It is called the Jesse tree because of this verse in Isaiah 11:1-4:

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 of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (Isaiah 11:1-4)

Rather than sticking to the traditional Jesse tree symbols, we plan to keep adding more and more symbols from as many bible stories as we can each year. I plan to collect objects from around the house, decorations we already have that match a symbol (eg, an angel) and buy a couple more every year to expand the collection. The children will make some cardboard creations, however I also want to collect a bunch of pre-made symbols that can be hung daily without us having to make something. Last year we started with the idea of making a symbol every day but it was just too hard to keep up. This year we will make a few and add a few.

Here are some useful links. Keep in mind that most of them are Catholic websites so use them as a guide and modify the readings and symbols chosen if desired.

http://www.cresourcei.org/jesse.html Lots of information about Jesse trees, including a very useful table of themes, scripture readings and symbols

http://www.domestic-church.com/CONTENT.DCC/19971201/FRIDGE/FRIDGE1.HTM Symbols with readings that can be copied, coloured and cut out to make your own homemade Jesse tree. Click on the symbol downloads to see the scripture references.

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=545&repos=3&subrepos=1&searchid=801729 Scriptures and ideas for objects that may represent them – some alternative ideas here.

http://www.shalfleet.net/advent/makeajessetree.htm Scroll down this page for more scripture readings and several alternative symbol ideas.

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