When I was growing up,
Christmastime was always
a big deal in my house.
In fact, to this day my
mom goes all out decorating for the
holidays. We would have a Christmas
tree upstairs in the living room, one
down in the basement and smaller trees
placed throughout the house.
I also remember one other treeif
you want to call it thatwe would set
up at Christmas. It was simply a branch
spray-painted green and stuck in a
bucket of sand, but it received just as
much attention as our other trees. It
was our Jesse Tree.
Now I must admit, as a child I didnt
really see the significance of this tree.
I had a sense that it was something
special because of all the attention we
gave it, but I didnt know why. Now
that Im a parent, I find myself making
an effort to revive many of those traditions
Ive neglected from my childhood.
Unfortunately, a lot of times I
come up empty. So this Advent season
Im making an effort to bring back this
often overlooked custom.
Jesus' Family Tree
So what exactly is the significance of
the Jesse Tree? Well, the concept is
based on the Bible passage Isaiah 11:1-
2, which states, But a shoot shall
sprout from the stump of Jesse, and
from his roots a bud shall blossom. The
spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the
Lord. The branches of the tree begin at the bottomrepresented by Jesseand end at the
top with Christ. Matthew 1:1-16 presents the family
tree from Abraham to Jesus, and Luke
3:23-38 chronicles from Jesus back to
Each day throughout the Advent season,
one symbol is hung upon the tree.
The symbols represent stories in the
Old Testament of either an ancestor of
Jesus or a prophecy foretelling his coming.
Some of the symbols are a burning
bush, Noahs ark, Jonah in the whale,
the star of David, the apple and the
snake, Jacobs ladder, a dove, the earth
and others. The final symbolusually
the Star of Davidis placed on the tree
on Christmas Eve.
The placing of each ornament is then
usually followed by reading the accompanying
Incorporating an Overlooked Tradition
When most people think of symbols of
Advent, they think of the Advent
wreath or the Advent calendar. Unfortunately,
the Jesse Tree does not share
the same popularity. But it can be a
great addition to your Advent traditions.
Here are some suggestions for
incorporating this often overlooked
tradition into your Advent season:
Make a Jesse Tree. It can be either a
branch as my family had or a small
evergreen treefake or real. Or if youd
prefer something smaller, you could
even make your tree out of felt, construction
paper or wood.
Following the placing of the ornament,
the Scripture passage that accompanies
that symbol is usually read.
Perhaps during Advent this ritual could
replace your evening mealtime prayer,
with each family member taking turns
reading that days passage.
Check out your own family tree. If
you have one already put together, pull
it out and show it to your kids. Tell
stories or show pictures of the people
on the tree, even if theyve long since
died. If you dont already have a family
tree, start one as a family project. My
dad and I started researching our family
genealogy a few years ago, and we
have had a great time delving into our
pastnot to mention the interesting
stories weve discovered.
Just as the symbols of the Jesse Tree
represent each of Jesus ancestors in
some way, try to incorporate symbols of
your family members in your Christmas
shopping this year. For instance, I
have a charm bracelet and every Christmas
family members buy me charms
that represent who I am. I have charms
that represent my children, my writing,
my love of photography and football
and many other things. Im always
interestedand touchedto see how
others see me.
Next Month: Epiphany