Jesse Tree: Christian Christmas Tradition

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The Origin of the Jesse Tree Tradition

The Jesse Tree tradition finds its roots in the ancient prophecy of Isaiah in the Bible, which foretells the coming of the Messiah, a saviour for humanity.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1).

Jesse was the father of King David and, according to Christian belief, an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Hence, the Jesse Tree is seen as a representation of the genealogy of Jesus.

The first known visual representation of the Jesse Tree appears in medieval art around the 11th century. Early Jesse Trees were large carvings, tapestries, or stained glass windows in churches that depicted the ancestors of Jesus. They were often grand and intricate, telling the story of the Bible from Creation to the Nativity.

illustration of tree of Jesse

The Symbolism of the Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree symbolises the family tree, or genealogy, of Jesus Christ. It represents the continuity of the Bible’s narrative, from Creation through the Old Testament to the birth of Christ. Each decoration, or ornament, on the tree symbolises a story from the Bible.

The tree’s decorations usually start with the creation of the world, symbolised by an ornament representing the earth or the universe. This is followed by symbols for Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and other key figures in the Bible. It continues through to the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah, and concludes with the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Jesse Tree in Modern Christmas Celebrations

The Jesse Tree has been adapted into a devotional practice for the Advent season by many Christian families. Each day of Advent, a new ornament is added to the tree, each one symbolising a different story from the Bible. This activity serves as a reminder of the anticipatory nature of Advent and helps to tell the story of salvation history in a memorable and engaging way.

The ornaments for the Jesse Tree can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose. They can be handmade or purchased, crafted from wood or felt, or even drawn or printed on paper. The important thing is the story that each ornament represents. Often, as each ornament is added, the corresponding Bible passage is read and reflected upon.

For families with children, the Jesse Tree can be a wonderful way to introduce them to the stories of the Bible and the meaning of Advent and Christmas. It can be a fun and meaningful family tradition that helps to prepare everyone for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

How To Make Your Own Jesse Tree

Creating your own Jesse Tree can be a rewarding activity that enhances your Christmas season. Here are some simple steps to get you started:

1. Choose a Tree: This can be a small potted plant, a branch set in a vase, a picture or drawing of a tree, or even a wall decal. The important thing is that there’s space to hang or attach the ornaments.

2. Prepare the Ornaments: You can make these yourself, purchase them, or even print them out. Remember, each ornament should represent a story from the Bible that leads up to the birth of Jesus.

3. Read and Reflect: As you add each ornament, read the corresponding Bible passage and take some time to reflect on its meaning. This can be a special time of quiet and contemplation in the midst of the busy Christmas season.

Christmas dove ornament
Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Examples and Ideas of Stories and Ornaments for a Jesse Tree

Example of 25 stories (for December 1st to 25th) from the Old and New Testament that could be associated with ornaments for a Jesse Tree:

  1. Creation of the World: An ornament featuring the Earth.
  2. Adam and Eve: An apple or a snake to symbolize temptation and original sin.
  3. Noah’s Ark: An ark or a rainbow, representing God’s promise to Noah.
  4. Abraham and Sarah: A star or a tent, symbolizing God’s promise to Abraham and his nomadic life.
  5. Isaac: A ram, representing God’s provision in the story of Isaac’s near sacrifice.
  6. Jacob’s Ladder: A ladder, symbolising the dream of Jacob.
  7. Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours: A colourful coat or a dream symbol.
  8. Moses: A burning bush or the Ten Commandments tablets.
  9. The Passover: A lamb or a door marked with blood.
  10. Rahab: A red cord, representing Rahab’s act of faith.
  11. Ruth: A sheaf of barley, reflecting her work in the fields.
  12. King David: A harp or a crown, symbolising his role as king and psalmist.
  13. Solomon: A temple, representing the temple he built in Jerusalem.
  14. Elijah: A raven or a chariot of fire, referencing God’s provision and Elijah’s ascension to heaven.
  15. Isaiah: A stump with a branch, symbolizing Isaiah’s prophecy of the Jesse Tree.
  16. Jeremiah: Tears or a broken pot, reflecting the sorrow and destruction in Jeremiah’s prophecies.
  17. Daniel: A lion, symbolising Daniel in the lion’s den.
  18. Jonah: A big fish or whale, referencing the story of Jonah.
  19. Zechariah and Elizabeth: A priestly garment or a barren tree blossoming, symbolising Zechariah’s role and the miracle of John the Baptist’s birth.
  20. John the Baptist: A shell with water, a symbol of baptism.
  21. Mary: A lily or an angel, representing purity and the Annunciation.
  22. Joseph: A carpenter’s square or hammer, symbolizing Joseph’s profession.
  23. The Journey to Bethlehem: A donkey or a road, symbolizing Mary and Joseph’s journey.
  24. The Shepherds: A shepherd’s crook or a sheep, referencing the shepherds who visited Jesus.
  25. Jesus Christ: A manger or a star, symbolising the Nativity.

Each of these ornaments represent a significant story leading up to the birth of Jesus. They can be a beautiful way to visualize and remember the lineage and history leading to the birth of Christ.

The Jesse Tree is a rich tradition that symbolises the anticipation and hope of the Christmas season. Whether you’re deeply rooted in the Christian faith or simply appreciate the historic and symbolic aspects of the holiday season, incorporating a Jesse Tree into your celebration can add depth and meaning to your Christmas experience.

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