A warm welcome to Stacey, who wrote this excellent guest post – thanks so much!
Stacey is a meat-eating, raw-milk advocating, pro-vaccine-ing, long-haired, homeschooling, MSc-degree-holding, quilting, left-voting, mystery-novel-loving, arm-chair-permaculturing, chicken-owning, fair-trade-chocolate-eating, hippie-ish Christian mother of 3 (going on 4), who just had fish and chips for dinner and whose children are, (right now as I am typing this), watching a Disney princess movie.
Thanks to Thalia for the invitation to write about using a Jesse Tree for Advent. I don’t in any way see myself as a Jesse Tree expert, but we’ve been using one for a few years now, so when Thalia asked if I’d be willing to share about it, I was more than happy to jot my ideas down for your perusal.
I first heard about the Jesse Tree about five years ago, and really liked the idea of having an easy, intentional way of marking the Advent season with the children that didn’t involve a Disney trademarked calendar and terrible tasting chocolate.
Historically, the Jesse Tree is really a family tree for Jesus, tracing his ancestry back to Jesse, the father of King David, and placing Jesus’ birth in the context of his Old Testament forebears. In the middle ages, Jesse Trees were carved or painted on the walls of churches, or incorporated into stained glass windows as kind of visual aid to meditation and teaching.
The modern incarnation of Jesse Trees, however, has taken this traditional idea of Jesus’ family tree and expanded it into a daily (or weekly) practice for Advent. It borrows from the Advent Calendar concept, of revealing a new thing for each day of Advent, and is also a nod to the much more familiar Christmas tradition of decorating a physical tree.
Basically, the Jesse Tree is a list of scripture readings, one for each day of Advent, that traces the story of Christ right from the Creation, through Israel’s history, to Jesus’ birth. For each reading, there is a Jesse Tree ornament – a symbol relating somehow to the reading – which is hung on the tree.
Using a Jesse Tree at home can be as simple or as complicated as you like to make it. When I first decided to do it, it was a week before Advent and I had run out of time for complicated. I googled “free printable jesse tree”, found one that had pictures I liked, printed and cut out the symbols, and trotted down to the local stationery shop and had them laminated.
I had the pages of readings laminated for good measure, too. Then when I got home I rolled out a sheet of newsprint from the kids’ craft supplies, used a crayon to draw the outline of a Christmas Tree (making sure it was big enough to fit all the symbols on), and stuck the tree to the back of the living room door. Each day I’d read the scripture passage to the kids and they’d take turns to stick the symbol to the tree with a loop of masking tape on the back.
I’ve heard of families who, after the reading, discuss what sort of symbol might work best, and then draw or make ornaments to fit. The kids could make them out of plasticine, perhaps. Or there are ornaments designed for children to colour in as they listen to the reading. In one fit of mad optimism I thought of baking gingerbread ornaments in weekly batches to hang on a real tree (needless to say, this never actually happened).
I’ve been in a church service where the children were invited forward to hang that week’s ornaments on a ‘tree’ (dead branch stuck in a vase), while the readings were paraphrased.
My eventual plan is to make or otherwise acquire a fabric Advent Calendar with pockets containing each symbol, and a fabric tree with velcro dots or buttons to hang the ornaments from, but in the meantime, I’m still using the very same set that I hurriedly printed out 5 years ago.
No two lists of readings that I have seen are exactly alike, and the symbols that accompany them are likewise pretty variable. This works for me, though, because it means there’s a lot of flexibility in how I can use it in my family. On the downside, if you have a favourite version of the Jesse Tree readings (like Geraldine McCaughrean’s brilliant book), matching up some ornaments for each of those readings will take a bit more work than just hitting ‘print’ from a random Jesse Tree list from the internet.
Have a look at this site (just one of many, many internet resources on Jesse Trees), to see their list of readings, with accompanying symbol suggestions, to get an idea of how it all works.
Thanks, Stacey! So great to see a Jesse Tree in action. Does anyone else do this? Who’s keen for this year? Any questions for Stacey? Feel free to leave a comment or question or story below.
This is part of a series on celebrating Advent with kids (your own or someone else’s!). You can see the series list here, or click here for all the Advent posts from previous years, too.
Please feel free to keep in touch with Sacraparental throughout Advent by following Sacraparental on Facebook (daily extras), signing up for email updates (the box at the top right) and/or following me on Pinterest (the Advent board will be particularly relevant just now!).