The Jesse tree is a way to help our children see the continuity between the Old and New Testament. All of the Old Testament points forward to Jesus, the centerpiece of human history.
The Jesse tree takes its name from Isaiah 11:1, which says “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” That stump is David’s line, and the branch refers to Christ.
Historically a Jesse tree was like a family tree for Christ, but today the term refers to a tree of ornaments which remind us of God’s work throughout redemptive history. Typically these ornaments include something to remind us of creation, the fall of mankind, the flood, and so on. Each night a new ornament is placed on the Jesse tree, and an appropriate scripture is read.
My children enjoy our Jesse tree and it has been beneficial for them to get a sense of the big picture. We often use our Jesse tree ornaments twice a year–for Advent and Easter. During Advent the ornaments culminate on Christmas with Christ’s birth. For Easter we use a week’s worth of ornaments to talk about the events of Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.
Some of our ornaments are homemade, some are re-purposed toys and some are actual Christmas ornaments.
This picture shows some of our ornaments. The chocolate coins remind us of Judas, a lego man in a clay “basket” for baby Moses, a piece of paper cut in the shape of the Ten Commandments, a beaded box with a perfume sample for the woman who anointed Jesus, a playmobil knife for Abraham and Isaac, a lamb to remind us of the Passover, three wise men for Jesus’ birth, a globe for creation, Noah’s ark, a snake for the fall and a star for God’s covenant with Abraham.
You can also download colored paper ornaments for your Jesse tree online and print them on paper or cardstock. Here is another site with printable paper ornaments and instructions for various kinds of trees. If you don’t have room for a tabletop tree, there are several alternatives. Some people draw a tree on posterboard and attach their ornaments with tape or velcro to the poster. Many people place a large branch in a bucket of sand and hang the ornaments from it. For those of you who are crafty there are patterns you can purchase online to sew a Jesse tree wall-hanging or to cross-stitch or embroider the ornaments.
Here is a list of possible scriptures with ideas for corresponding ornaments. Pray about which scriptures to use and be creative about finding appropriate ornaments. Start out on a small scale and you can add to your Jesse tree from year to year. If you want to do a Jesse tree but the season is too busy to gather everything together, start next Easter. You can gather ornaments over the next few months and try it out during the Easter season. Then you’ll be all ready to go next Christmas!
The Creation, Genesis 1, a Globe ornament
The Fall, Genesis 3, a toy snake
Noah and the Flood, Genesis 6-9, an ark ornament
Abraham and Sarah, Genesis 12, a star ornament to illustrate the covenant
Abraham and Isaac, Genesis 22, a tiny toy knife hung by a ribbon on the handle
Jacob and Esau, Genesis 27, twins
Passover, Exodus 12, a lamb
Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, a cutout paper in the shape of tablets
Israel desires a king, 1 Samuel 8, a crown
The Prophets, Jonah, an ornament of Jonah in the whale
The annunciation, Luke 1, an angel
The birth of Jesus, Luke 2, Christmas manger ornament
Depending on the season, you may want to add additional Christmas-themed ornaments such as the birth of John the Baptist, three wise men, King Herod, etc. We usually have a week’s worth of ornaments for the events surrounding Jesus’ birth which we use during Christmas week.