Anticipating the birth of Jesus with a Jesse tree

Your Life
Michelle DiFranco
December, 2016

A few years ago, I remember going through my 7-year-old son’s backpack and finding an egg carton with little objects in each cavity. One by one, I began to take them out and study them — a tree twig, a plastic star, a ladder made from toothpicks and so on. When I asked him for an explanation, he told me all about the “Jesse tree” that he created in class.

While I’m familiar with the verse from Isaiah 11:1 and its meaning (“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom”), I admit, it wasn’t until then that I learned about the symbolism of creating an actual Jesse tree.

The Jesse tree gets its name from Jesse, the father of King David. Symbols that represent the people and events leading up to the birth of Jesus are created to tell the stories of the Old Testament. These symbols can then be displayed on a banner or hung on branches of a tree during Advent.

As I discovered with my son, the Jesse tree, in the tangible symbolic context, is not just a great teaching tool for kids, but also a way for us all, young and old, to catalogue and ponder the amazing historical and spiritual events that led up to Christ’s birth. It is a “family tree” of sorts that inventories Jesus’ ancestors and provides the lineage that is necessary for his messianic fulfillment. And most relevant during this time of the year, it is another great custom in our Catholic Church to help us anticipate our Lord’s coming during the Advent season to bring light to the world.

It is powerful to contemplate the profound and amazing historical events that led to the birth of Christ. Today, we have the advantage of looking backward and seeing how it all made sense. We can see how the biblical narrative, through the trials and wanderings of the Jewish people, makes way for Christ’s arrival. But taken individually as unique and separate stories, each symbolized upon the Jesse tree, we are reminded of how God has worked in the world in mysterious and beautiful ways to guide and protect his Church, as he still does today.

There are many different ways to create a Jesse tree, and the imagery and corresponding stories (from Scripture) can vary. The main objective is to show the important people in Jesus’ lineage, and reflect on how their role was important in God’s plan for salvation. The following project is for 24 ornaments to be hung on a miniature tree beginning Dec. 1, and ending on Christmas Eve. I’ve created a set of 24 printable ones with the suggested Scripture verses, you can find the link below. I would recommend printing two copies, one to adhere to the ornaments and the other to use as a guide.

Jesse Tree Ornaments

You will need:

  • 24 1.5-inch wooden craft disks, preferably with holes
  • 24 7-inch pieces of string
  • 1 piece of light tone scrapbook paper trimmed to 8 1/2 x 11
  • Spray adhesive or glue stick
  • Medium grit sand paper
  • Craft spray varnish (satin)
  • Miniature Christmas tree (a tree branch in a pot of soil will work too)
  • Bible (for readings)
  • Computer with internet access and printer
  • Printable Ornaments

Print the designs on a sheet of 8 ½ x 11 scrapbook paper. Using scissors or a craft knife, cut out the circles and adhere to the wooden disks (I applied a dark stain to mine ahead of time, so the designs would stand out a bit more). Sand the edges. If you have wooden disks without a hole, use a drill with a small bit to create one at the top of each disk (drilling through the paper). Spray with a clear satin varnish. Attach the string to the ornaments.