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O Jesse Tree, O Jesse Tree
By Susan Hines-Brigger


Jesus' Family Tree
Incorporating an Overlooked Tradition
For Teens: Your Family Tree
For Kids: Get Out Your Art Supplies

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 tree—if you want to call it that—we 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 didn’t 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 didn’t know why. Now that I’m a parent, I find myself making an effort to revive many of those traditions I’ve neglected from my childhood. Unfortunately, a lot of times I come up empty. So this Advent season I’m 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 bottom—represented by Jesse—and 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 Adam.

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, Noah’s ark, Jonah in the whale, the star of David, the apple and the snake, Jacob’s ladder, a dove, the earth and others. The final symbol—usually the Star of David—is placed on the tree on Christmas Eve.

The placing of each ornament is then usually followed by reading the accompanying Scripture verse.

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 tree—fake or real. Or if you’d 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 day’s 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 they’ve long since died. If you don’t 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 past—not to mention the interesting stories we’ve 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. I’m always interested—and touched—to see how others see me.

Next Month: Epiphany


For Teens: Your Family Tree

The Jesse Tree is basically the family tree for Jesus, but what about your own family tree? Take the idea of the Jesse Tree and make it a little more personal by placing items that represent your own family members on the tree. Make each day during Advent someone’s special day when that person hangs his or her ornament on the tree. You can make the event even more special by letting the person have special perks for that day, such as choosing what to have for dinner or getting out of chores for the day.

You can either take on the task of finding these items yourself or ask each family member to help you by gathering his or her own symbols. These can be pictures from magazines, old Christmas cards, drawings or even actual ornaments. Or you can just hang small pictures of your family members on the tree’s branches.

For Kids: Get Out Your Art Supplies

Do you like to color? If so, why not put yourself in charge of decorating the symbols for your family’s Jesse Tree? Have an adult go online or find a book with all the symbols for the Jesse Tree and print them out. Cut out the symbols and decorate them any way you like.

You might ask an adult to get the symbols laminated so they last longer. Then punch holes and thread string or yarn through the ornaments so they can hang on the tree’s branches.

If you would like to get more elaborate, you can make the ornaments out of felt or craft foam, both of which can be found at your local craft store.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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