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The Jesse Tree is a centuries-old family Advent devotion that has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years. It has particular value since it helps both kids and adults a like to locate Jesus, the Messiah, within the lineage of the shepherd boy who became King of Israel–David, son of Jesse.
The whole idea of the Jesse Tree comes right out of a classic Advent passage from the prophet Isaiah: “A shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).
The Jesse Tree is hung with ornaments representing Old Testament people and events and lead up to Jesus. The traditional symbols hung on the tree are based on the genealogy of Jesus as recounted by the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Set up a tree or branches with or without leaves. For the ornaments, you can either buy a Jesse Tree kit or just craft them yourself (scroll to the bottom of this page for traditional ornament list).
Traditionally, there is one ornament for each day of Advent. You start at the base of the Jesse tree with Adam and Eve. At the top of the tree at the very end of the season comes a crib representing the baby Jesus. There’s a brief scripture reading for every symbol (see below). If you read these readings and contemplate them and the Jesse Tree symbols to which they are linked, by December 25th you and your family will have a much deeper understanding of the history of salvation and the meaning of Christmas!
The World is Created (globe) Genesis 1:24-28
Abraham (camel) Genesis 12:1-7; 13:2-18; 18:1
Sarah (baby) Genesis 22:1-14
Isaac (ram) Genesis 22:1-14
Jacob (ladder) Genesis 27:41-28:22
Joseph (multicolored coat) Genesis 37:1-36
Moses (burning bush) Exodus 3:1-10
Miriam (tambourine) Exodus 15:19-21
Samuel (lamp) 1 Samuel 16:14-13
Jesse (branch) Isaiah 11:1
David (harp) 1 Samuel 16:14-23
Solomon (crown) 1 Kings 3:3-28
Isaiah (throne) Isaiah 6:1-8
Jeremiah (tablets of law) Jeremiah 31:31-34
Angels (angel) Hebrews 1:1-14
Malachi (trumpet) Malachi 3:1-4
Zechariah and Elizabeth (dove) Luke 1:39-45
Mary (angel) Luke 1:26-35
John the Baptist (river) Matthew 3:1-6
Joseph of Nazareth (hammer/saw) Matthew 1:18-25
Bethlehem (star) Matthew 2:1-12
Birth of Christ (crib) Luke 2:1-7
FOR A FREE ADVENT “CHEAT SHEET” with many practical suggestions on how you and your family or study group can make this the best Advent and Christmas Season ever, either sign up for free on our email list or confirm your existing subscription by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This document is not posted publicly on our website and is for our subscribers only.
The above material on the Jesse tree comes to you in large part thanks to Meredith Gould, author of The Catholic Home. For more great ideas for celebrating Advent, Christmas, and other seasons and feasts in your home, get a copy of her wonderful book.
For more great resources for the Advent Season generally, visit the Crossroads Initiative ADVENT RESOURCE LIBRARY
Banner/featured image of a tree by Ashley Marinaccio on Scopio. Used with permission.