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Have you ever heard of a Jesse Tree? A Jesse Tree is created with a set of 25 symbolic ornaments, each of which represent a different piece of the overarching redemption story of the Old Testament leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments typically coordinate with a Bible story or verse from scripture and can be hung on your regular Christmas tree or on a separate tree.
I’m going to explain the simple way we do a Jesse Tree during the season of Advent, but before I go any further, I want to pause and say this: My biggest hesitation in writing this post was that someone would read it, sigh, and feel some level of guilt about doing something like this.
You know… the feeling you get when you spend too long on Instagram, or see someone else’s amazing 1 year old birthday party, or whatever.
You are not allowed to read this and experience mommy guilt. Comparison steals joy. I can’t stand it when I fall into doing something out of guilt/ obligation… Nobody likes that feeling. I’ve written about keeping Advent with our young children simple and just doing what works for you over in this post.
If making your own Jesse Tree raises your blood pressure and stresses you out, don’t do it.
Instead, read one verse from the Christmas story in Luke 2 each day, or one chapter in John each day, or one story in the Jesus Storybook Bible. (Or grab one of these other super simple Advent Reading Plan Books.)
Advent is about reflecting on what Jesus has done, and what He is doing, and what He has promised to do. It’s about taking time to slow down, reflect, pray, and worship the God of the universe who came to us as a little baby – perfect love incarnate.
A Jesse Tree can be an added help for reflecting about Jesus and redemption history in a meaningful way, but if it adds stress or becomes the object of our focus, then there’s no point.
Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus this Christmas season, friends! And if this Jesse Tree idea is a helpful symbol for you and/or your kiddos, great! Go for it.
The Basic Idea of a Jesse Tree Project is this:
- Read one Bible Story/ verse per day that begins with creation (December 1st) and ends on Christmas Day with the birth of Jesus.
- Hang an ornament each day that goes along with the verse.
NOTE: There are many different versions of a Jesse Tree, with slightly different Bible stories or readings to go with each day. But, every Jesse Tree focuses on Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ birth and stories of people in His ancestry. The concept fo a Jesse tree Jesse Tree is taken from the phrase “stump of Jesse” in Isaiah 11 that connects the family line of King David to Jesus the Messiah. (Jesse was the father of David.)
Jesse Tree Script, Readings, Versions
Any set of readings that takes you chronologically from Creation to Jesus’ Birth will work with a Jesse Tree. Here are my favorite Advent Reading options out there right now! Several of these family devotions style materials would work great for a Jesse Tree.
Some great options are:
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: Interactive Calendar (Ann Voskamp)
Geared towards kids ages 5+, this kit and Jesse Tree devotion book has 25 ornaments and short readings.
Jesus Storybook Bible & Ornaments
The Jesus Storybook Bible coincidentally has 24 stories leading up to the Birth of Jesus. This is a GREAT option for a wide variety of ages – everyone from ages 2-35 in our house loves this book. (You might want to shorten some of the readings for toddlers.)
The Bible itself is inexpensive and there are tons of options for ornaments with this one. You can buy handmade ornaments to go with the Bible, make them yourself, or print out this free Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Guide on a color printer!
Scripture Readings with Handmade Ornaments
I did a Jesse Tree ornament exchange with some moms one year (details here), and the hostess made these cool verse cards to coordinate a Bible reading for each day with the ornament we made. The cards list which verses to read on which day of Advent (December 1-25). A mom from the exchange gave them to me to give you, so you can download and print them for free!
There are 4 copies of each card per page because it was made for a group. To use them individually, just print all 3 pages, cut each page into quarters, whole punch the top left corner, and tie them together with a piece of yarn or a binder ring. You could give the other copies to a friend or just toss them. My friend laminated them for us. Fancy Schmancy.
Mix & Match
A few of my ornaments from that original ornament exchange broke over the years, and when our kids were very young, it was hard for them to sit through the above readings. So, all the years we’ve had younger children in the house, we used the Jesus Storybook Bible for our readings and kind of just made the ornaments from the exchange fit the readings.
Most years, we’re missing 1-2 ornaments, or some break, and we have to print off the free ones to color. It’s hodgepodge but it works! This doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful, friends.
At some point, the Jesse Storybook Bible became our Bible for the advent season. We start it on December 1st, inevitably miss a few days here and there, catch up and read stories 22-25 on Christmas Eve or Morning, then finish out the storybook bible as we head into the new year.
Where to Get Jesse Tree Ornaments
Like I mentioned, I did an ornament exchange with some moms one year. Each person chose 2 different days and made 12 of those ornaments. Then we all swapped so we got a whole set. Here’s how a friend and I hosted a super last minute ornament exchange party!
If it’s too late for that or if an ornament-exchange-level-of-crafting sounds like torture, here are some other ideas for where to get Jesse Tree Ornaments.
1. Print Ornaments to Color (Free Jesse Tree Ornament)
Here are some free printable patterns that I found from the Reformed Church Press. Letting your kids color them is probably the easiest. There’s one for each day. Here is the original source where I found them. They have a bunch of ideas for how to incorporate them, but I would just keep it simple. They have the coordinating scripture passage, which you could read (or paraphrase) while your kids color. Hole punch the paper ornament and hang it with some ribbon on your tree. If your kids are epic color-ers and you want to save them for next year, laminate them 🙂 Or just throw them out and do it again next year.
2. Buy a Jesse Tree Ornament coloring kit on Amazon
Buy this Jesse Tree Ornaments Coloring Kit, have your kids cut out and color one each day. This one wins the easy-for-parents award.
3. Etsy Jesse Tree Ornaments
There are also tons of cute completed sets on Etsy! Here are a few:
4. Use The Greatest Gift Version of a Jesse Tree
I mentioned this one earlier, but a Jesse Tree devotional that comes highly recommended is Ann Voskamp’s Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. Some close friends of ours have loved doing this book during the month of December with their young grade-school and preschool aged children. There are two options for this book:
- The book & a set of coordinating ornaments
- The interactive calendar & devotional kit (pictured below)
How do You Explain the Jesse Tree to a Child?
It depends on the age of the child.
Toddler – For a toddler, I’d explain very little. Just do it! If you can keep your Jesse Tree activity short & sweet & at the same time each day, the toddler will learn what to expect. Maybe it’s with breakfast or after nap time… Give this activity a name and say it every day. (“Time for Jesse Tree Ornament time.”) Put that day’s ornament & the Bible story out on the table. Read as much as the toddler can sit through while they’re eating a snack. (Feel free to skip paragraphs or paraphrase!) When the reading is done, let the toddler hang the ornament on the tree. I bet after a few days, the toddler will know what to expect and get excited about it even though they don’t really understand the meaning of a Jesse Tree.
You can always say something super simple like, “The Jesse Tree ornaments tell the story of God’s plan to send Jesus to save us from sin. This is the true meaning of Christmas.”
Preschooler – For a preschool child, I’d introduce the idea on December 1. “This December, we’re going to celebrate Advent! Advent means ‘coming,’ and it’s a month where we celebrate that Jesus came to earth as a human to save us from sin. To celebrate the Advent season, we’re going to read from the Bible every day and hang an ornament on the tree that goes with the story. These are called Jesse Tree ornaments because Jesse was one of the great great great great great grandparents of Jesus.”
Elementary School – For an older child, I’d give the same intro as listed under the preschool child’s explanation, but you could go into more detail about the idea of a family tree. Maybe sketch a simple family tree with names in your family to show how their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc are all in their family’s lineage.
Then you could read from Matthew 1 and show how the Bible traces Jesus’ ancestry back all the way to people they might recognize in scripture – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… Ruth, Obed, Jesse, King David.
Explain that you’re going to read one story per day to remember what happened in the history of God’s people leading up to Jesus coming. As the Jesus Storybook Bible subtitle puts it – “every story whispers his name.”
Where to Put your Jesse Tree Ornaments
We’ve always just put our ornaments right on our regular tree each morning or evening. I have 4 kids, so we draw lottery numbers on December 1st to determine the order (otherwise, tears will ensue). They rotate nightly.
Some people I know have a separate little tree or some sticks in a vase that they hang their ornaments on. There is no right or wrong way to do this! Here are a few Jesse Tree ideas that popped up in a quick internet search.
If you’re ready to try the Jesse Tree with your kids this year, here are some tips about keeping Advent with Little ones really simple. (Free Printable Advent Calendar included)
Don’t forget to check out- 31 ideas for Simple & Fun Advent Activities for Families too!