From Adam to Jesus: The Jesse Tree Tradition
- Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Several years ago, we were visiting friends during the Christmas season. In the center of the room they had a large tree decorated with a variety of ornaments. Since I could not see an obvious theme, I asked if the tree was a family tree, with special ornaments for each child. She replied that it was a Jesse Tree. When I looked puzzled, she explained the basics behind the Jesse Tree tradition, and I was hooked on the idea. What better way to spread our Christmas preparations throughout the entire month and teach our children the big picture of the Bible?
What Is a Jesse Tree?
The Jesse Tree tradition originated in the medieval church in the form of carvings, stained glass windows, or illuminated manuscripts illustrating (literally) Isaiah 11:1: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots." Typically, the objects centered on a tree culminated with the figure of Christ and/or Mary, with branches showing the ancestors of Christ as listed in the gospel of Matthew. While some Protestant churches during the Reformation moved away from any visual representations, others retained the tradition of the Jesse Tree.
Most people who enjoy the Jesse Tree tradition with their families today focus on God's thread of redemption through the Old Testament, leading up to the birth of Christ. While the medieval church focused only on the people, we look at the events, from Adam to Christ, that show God's hand in saving His people. Some of these include Creation (symbolized by a globe), Abraham and Isaac (a ram in the bushes), Ruth (a sheaf of wheat), and Micah's prophecy of Jesus' birthplace (a building/village). Each day we read a portion of the Old Testament and add a symbol to the Jesse Tree. We usually use the Jesse Tree readings during our evening family worship, but one year I used it as the basis of our homeschool Bible lessons during the day. Each year the children chose a different craft to symbolize the stories and worked on that either while we were reading or during their free time the next day.
Our Jesse Tree Tradition
The first year we completed a Jesse Tree, I printed out paper patterns for the children to color, but my son asked if he could create clay ornaments using the clay that hardens in the oven. My two daughters also tried to create their own ornaments. Some of them worked better than others, but overall they had fun, and they still enjoy getting the ornaments out each year and telling the stories. We also took pictures of these and created our own Jesse Tree book from the photos. The second year the children colored the paper patterns while we were reading. This year we are hoping to organize an ornament exchange, with each family making a quantity of several ornaments to share. Modern Jesse Trees vary from full-size evergreens to bare shoots placed in a bucket of sand. Some families opt for felt banners, while others make a paper tree and hang it on the wall. Only your time and resources limit the possibilities.
Jesse Tree Resources
Some of our favorite Jesse Tree resources: In The Jesse Tree, by Geraldine MacCaughrean, a curmudgeonly carpenter is carving a Jesse Tree for his church; a child befriends him, pesters him daily to tell the story of the figures, and hears the Gospel in a new way. I have found other Jesse Tree books even at our public library. We have also used The Big Picture Story Bible by David R. Helm because, like its title states, it gives the big picture of the Bible, tying in nicely with the Jesse Tree. On its website, the Reformed Church in America posts a yearly reading schedule along with simple black line symbols to color and cutout. http://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=1602 . These two sites offer pictures, devotions, and some patterns: http://www.jesse-tree.com/, http://www.shalfleet.net/advent/makeajessetree.htm. This site offers complete sets of ornaments in several different styles, as well as patterns for sale: http://www.jesse-trees.com/index.html. Another mom offers her patterns and book: http://www.thejessetree.org/. I did a quick search while writing this article and found many blog posts that shared Jesse Tree ideas.
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