What Is the Jesse Tree Tradition?

The Jesse Tree Tradition

Advent is an ideal season for dedicating more family time to devotional prayer.

...I know. It’s a very demanding time of year. We should try to do less, not more, right?

All the more reason to make purposeful decisions about what to include during Advent, and what to leave for the Christmas Season (Dec. 25-Jan 6). Do you make gingerbread houses every year? Maybe move that activity to one of the 12 Days of Christmas. You always lead the neighborhood caroling? Plan it for December 26.

The Jesse Tree: What is it?

One devotion my family has appreciated over the years is the Jesse Tree. This daily Biblical prayer begins on the 1st Sunday of Advent and ends Christmas Eve. As we walk through the days of Advent, the Jesse Tree traces the family tree of Our Lord: the people and events that led up to the birth of the Savior.

The Jesse Tree presents this family history of Christ in a series of ornaments hung on a small “Jesse Tree.” Children are naturally drawn to these simple representations of the Bible stories, many of which they have heard their whole lives, and now get to see strung together into a single storyline leading up to Jesus’ birth.

The name “Jesse Tree” comes from Isaiah:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-3)

While Isaiah’s contemporaries probably assumed that this “stump of Jesse” was Israel’s King David, Isaiah was also foretelling the coming of Christ, the descendant of David and future King of Kings.

The symbols tell the story from Adam and Eve, to Jesus Christ.

The symbol on the first ornament represents the creation of the world, followed by a symbol for Adam and Eve, a symbol for Noah, and so on. Following God’s plan through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the way up to the immediate forerunners of Jesus, the Jesse Tree teaches us about all the ways God slowly revealed himself to man.

The people and events of the Old Testament imaged Christ in a dim way, preparing the world for his future coming. They played a vital part in the history of salvation and in God’s unfolding revelation of Himself to mankind. As we prayerfully study that history, we see revealed in deeper and deeper ways the mystery of his great love for man.

A tradition for the whole family.

In the devotion my family uses, on the 8th day of Advent our symbol is the coat of many colors, which represents Joseph, the son of Jacob. After a brief scuffle as family members argue about whose turn it is, one child places the ornament on the tree.

When the bleeding is for the most part staunched, we begin with the Sign of the Cross and read in Genesis 37 about Joseph’s life, pausing and asking questions from time to time to make sure the younger children are following along.

Then my husband reads the reflection for the day, which tells how Joseph foreshadowed Christ, and also draws a lesson about God from Joseph’s story: He always brings good out of bad for those who love him (Romans 8:28). We close with a brief prayer.

In this way we are drawn in, day by day, to the great mystery of Christ’s coming. As we watch again how the world awaited a Savior, our hearts, and those of our children, experience that longing.

If you’d like to practice the Jesse Tree devotion with your family this year, head on over to the next post (navigation below) for more detailed tips & tricks.

Suzan Sammons is Mom to 6 daughters (toddler to college-age)  and 1 teenage son. She is a homeschooling mother and a writer and editor with The Saragossa Group. She and her husband have also co-written a Jesse Tree Advent devotional book.


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