Celebrating Advent Through a Jesse Tree

Last year, we instituted a new Christmas tradition at our house with Aiden who was then 2 ½ yrs. old. I had been thinking about how to establish some of our own family traditions, and John and I talked a lot about how we wanted Christmas presented to our children. We wanted Christ to be the all of Christmas without a lot of the other distractions, and the Jesse Tree seemed like a great way to do this. We kept our Jesse Tree very simple the first year and mostly read to Aiden from his children’s Bible. I’m excited to see how much more he will understand this year for our 2nd annual Jesse Tree!

If you too are looking for something that puts Christ at the center of Christmas in the midst of everything else our culture throws into the mix or if you have been thinking about how to establish or re-establish some of your own Christmas traditions, I humbly submit the Jesse Tree, a way to celebrate Advent and talk about what Christ’s birth means. To use a Jesse Tree, you will read Bible passages each day of Advent, beginning with Creation and tracing the “main events,” to tell a story of God’s faithfulness to His people in providing a Messiah. That story ultimately, of course, brings us to Christ’s birth on Christmas day. After reading the Bible passage for the day, hang an ornament representing that story on a tree. As you progress through the Advent season, you will “build” Christ’s story.

You can keep it simple, of course, and just read the stories to your children, talking about how Jesus fulfills the promises God made. Or along with reading the Bible stories, you can create an actual Jesse Tree by making a banner or poster and attaching paper ornaments or by using any variation of a tree with the ornaments hung on its branches. You can use a small tree, hanging one ornament for each day, or decorate a large tree with many people handmaking their own ornaments to hang all over the tree. A traditional Jesse Tree is a large stump with a single green branch growing out of it. The ornaments are attached around the branch, usually with a star as the last symbol at the top. We use a small tree I got from the after-Christmas clearance rack, and our ornaments are a collection of ornaments I bought or made.

Since some of the stories are recounted over many chapters in the Bible, they may need to be summarized or shortened depending on the ages of your children or your time. You may also choose to read the stories from a children’s Bible geared toward the ages of your children. Two extremely good children’s Bibles are The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible. Other characters or events may be substituted for some of those I’ve included on my outline (for instance, the story of Rahab or Samson) as long as the main storyline of human failure and God’s grace and renewed hope through a coming Messiah is clearly presented. If the Jesse Tree becomes an annual practice at your house, different aspects of the stories may be emphasized in different years.

I have included on a separate page (look at the menu at the top) an explanation of Advent and the Jesse Tree and the outline of Scripture readings I created for our family to help you get started. Share the meaning of Advent and the Jesse Tree with your family as you set up your tree and get ready to start. If nothing else, you can read some of the Scriptures yourself, preparing your own heart for the coming of the One True Savior in the form of a little baby. As you read the stories beginning in the Old Testament, look for how each story points to a coming promise: Christ. I pray that in the end you will see that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20).

The outline I’ve created starts tomorrow (Nov. 26) if you’re wanting to start right away! If not, ease into it or only do what works for your family. The point is not to check off all the boxes; the point is to prepare your heart for Christ’s coming!