The ubiquitous Christmas symbols are out in force – holly wreaths, festive Christmas trees, eggnog, and of course good ol’ Santa himself. But many homeschoolers seek to move beyond the cultural harbingers of the season to focus on the birth of the Christ child; to celebrate God coming to earth. One of the most meaningful ways to help the family emphasize the true meaning of Christmas is through creating a Jesse Tree. This wonderful tradition not only centers the significance of the holiday around Christ, but it serves as an advent calendar as well, marking each passing day to count down until Christmas.
The Jesse Tree is a simple idea with profound ramifications. The name of the tree comes from a messianic prophecy from Isaiah 11:1: “Then a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit”. This “branch” from the line of Jesse is Jesus Christ (whose lineage descends from King David’s father, Jesse). The Jesse Tree tradition, along the lines of a family tree, traces God’s plan for salvation for humanity from the beginning of time. It demonstrates God’s faithfulness and grace to His creation throughout history, from His covenant with the nation of Israel to the fulfillment of His deliverance through Christ.
Essentially, families create or purchase a small tree and then place an ornament on that tree each day in December. Each ornament represents part of the salvation story and is accompanied by a related reading from scripture. Beginning with creation (often represented by the earth), and ending with Christ’s birth in Bethlehem (represented by the Chi-Rho symbol, candle, manger, or similar symbol), each day uses scriptural passages to illustrate God’s work throughout history in revealing His plan of salvation through Christ. Some of the other scriptural themes/ornaments include: the first sin (tree with fruit and serpent), God’s leadership through Moses (burning bush), Passover and the Exodus (lamb), the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (tablets), the exile of the Jews (tears), repentance and John the Baptist (water), and the hope of a Messiah through Mary (mother and child). Families read the appropriate passage and put the related ornament on the Jesse Tree for that day.
The Jesse Tree is a tradition that can grow as your family grows. Even the youngest of children enjoy pulling out the ornament for the day and putting it on the tree. Older children can make their own ornaments, so that the Jesse Tree becomes truly personal and unique. In addition to the scriptural readings each day, the process of making and hanging the ornaments helps to inculcate the scriptural truths around each piece of God’s revelation through history, and provides children the background behind why Christ’s birth at Christmas is so meaningful. An added benefit is that each ornament and reading serves as an advent calendar to help children count down the days until December 25th. Parents can even put the ornament for the day (or typed-out scripture passage of the day) into a traditional advent calendar, so that children can mark each day with the Jesse Tree tradition, rather than with candy.
With all of the commercialism and busyness of the season, it is easy to lose track of the meaning of Christmas. Gifts to buy, parties to attend, halls to deck…in the midst of the frenetic holiday hubbub, the Jesse Tree can help to anchor your family each day to the deeper significance of Christmas. In a tradition that incorporates creativity and rituality with teaching and values, homeschoolers can step away from the Christmas commotion into the presence of the Prince of Peace.
The following are some excellent resources to help you get started with your own Jesse Tree tradition.
Free digital Jesse Tree Advent book
- Simply by signing up for e-mail updates from AHolyExperience.com, you receive a link to a wonderful Jesse Tree Advent Devotional Book by Ann Voskamp. The book includes full bible text passages of significant events leading to the birth of Christ, a daily family devotional, a family activity to do each day entitled “Unwrapping more of His love in the world”, and a full color ornament. Everything you need to begin a Jesse Tree tradition.
Printable Jesse Tree ornaments:
- ErieRCD.org – This site offers small (3.5”) and large (7.5”) round, printable Jesse Tree ornaments in full color, along with accompanying devotions.
- Reformed Church Press features a pdf file of excellent black and white ornaments and patterns which can be colored by children. These are very adaptable and can be printed out and mounted to cardstock or used in a variety of ways.
- Domestic-Church.com offers 4 pages of black and white images that can be colored and used as ornaments. To find the ornament symbols, scroll down to “The Jesse Tree” under the heading “Advent and Christmas”. Includes corresponding readings and instructions.
- Shalfleet.net – Find printable Jesse Tree symbols in full color at this site, along with instructions for different ways to make a Jesse Tree, and related biblical passages to accompany each symbol.
- These black and white symbols are perfect for children to color. They are easy to color and include symbols for everything from Adam to John the Baptist. Scripture passages for each symbol are included.
Make your own Jesse Tree ornaments:
- The Mac & Cheese Chronicles gives photos of handmade Jesse Tree ornaments from a Jesse Tree Craft Swap. This is a great way to get your own ideas!
- Passionatehomemaking.com offers excellent ideas for homemade Jesse Tree ornaments, made by one family. Lots of photos and material suggestions.
- Reformed Church in America offers a variety of ideas for making your own Jesse Tree ornaments, including a supply list. Based on the same symbols by Reformed Church Press in the list above. Or check out the devotionals by Reformed Church in America that go along with these symbols. Reformed Church in America also gives ideas for how to make these ornaments out of clay.
- Stay at Home My Heart - This idea combines a Jesse Tree and an advent calendar, using patterns from the book Let’s Make a Jesse Tree by Darcy James.
- Festal Celebrations provides ideas for 52 homemade Jesse Tree ornaments, created as part of a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. Includes patterns for shrink-plastic ornaments, and accompanying scripture readings.
- Rocks in My Dryer has lots of photo ideas for Jesse Tree ornaments that are a combination of ones purchased from stores and ones made by hand.
- CRI Voice.Institute offers a wonderful list of Jesse Tree scripture passages, and suggestions of corresponding symbols. Includes instructions for the Jesse Tree tradition and its background. This is an excellent list of Jesse Tree readings that could accompany homemade ornaments, or a variety of ornament sets.
- Jesse Tree Calendar – This fun online advent calendar includes a daily scripture reading, Jesse Tree activity, song, and book idea of the day.
Jesse Tree Coloring pages
- Shower of Roses – This site provides a list of Jesse Tree scripture readings, along with coloring pages for children. These would work well for younger children who might not have the dexterity to color small ornaments, but can color these pictures of the symbols while the passages are being read.
- This Jesse Tree devotional book is for young children. It includes coloring pages for each day, a simple 1-2 sentence explanation of the theme for that day, and a simple bible passage.
Jesse Tree ornaments for purchase
- This Jesse Tree ornament kit is $10.95 and includes two options: 1) instructions to make your own tree and ornaments 2) A Jesse Tree poster and pre-drawn ornaments which can be colored. Also includes the background of the Jesse Tree and scripture passages to go along with each ornament.
- This Jesse Tree Activity Kit includes 24 paper ornaments with scripture passages on the back of each, for $19.99. Also includes gold cords for hanging, and a booklet of scripture readings and prayers.
- Handmade Jesse Tree Ornaments - These beautiful embroidered Jesse Tree ornaments can be personally selected from 44 ornament choices. They are $160 for a set of 25, or $190 for a set of 30.