The Jesse Tree.
It is central to how we decorate and celebrate and it is one of my favorite traditions. Through symbols made into ornaments, it tells the story of Salvation – of God’s faithful, reckless, pursuing love of His people. It is so named after the prophecy about Christ, that a branch will come forth from the roots of the stump of Jesse- Jesus! When Max was a baby, a friend gifted us a beautiful 8 piece set and that goes on a bare branch on the table, all the pieces at once. But years ago, we took part in a Jesse Tree swap at Cathedral and have enjoyed our set ever since.
Each evening, we turn off all the lights and we light our Advent wreath and pray the prayers the Vocations Office posts online. Then someone reads the scripture for the Jesse Tree symbol of the day and someone else puts up the corresponding ornament. It goes right onto our Christmas tree, decorating it a little at a time, adding to the anticipation and build up for Christmas.
The stories though . . . we love to hear the same scriptures reread. From Creation to the Fall, through the covenants and prophesies, promise after to promise until they come to their fulfillment in Christ. We love the way they point always to him and his coming, not just then in a stable in Bethlehem but one day to us. AGAIN! Even when the oldest kiddos were little, we’d have them tell us the stories they knew well so that the greatest story ever told was woven into their own. I love hearing their voices recalling the wonder of God’s strength and mercy.
It is so good.
So good in fact, I love to share this tradition with others. Each time we did the swap at Cathedral, we gave sets to godchildren. And this year I started thinking that there were people we knew who would probably enjoy the tradition, too. In the moments of serious stress over All Saints costumes, I would brainstorm Jesse Tree ornament ideas or peruse Pinterest for inspiration. I wanted ornaments that would be kid friendly and rather sturdy – our set, well loved and all, has some pieces that have fallen apart because they were fragile and excited little hands sometimes drop things. Durability, beauty, and creativity were high on my list for qualifying ornaments.
I also tried to use things from my stash of crafty supplies. More than once I heard Randy in my head asking if we were hoarders because I’d see or have an idea and think, “I have just the thing!” Be prepared, right?!
And I put the family to work, too. Jac rolled his eyes and heaved some sighs but when it came down to the leather crafting (and tying bits on and the photography and shopping and . . .) he was all business and the pieces were full of detail I hadn’t imagined. The kids each helped and made ornaments and they all gave encouragement and excitement as needed, anxiously awaiting the next thing to be done and crossing things off the list.
It was a labor of love, to be sure.
Because there were so many great ideas on Pinterest, I thought I’d add our ornaments here. Warning: there are a lot of images! I encourage you, if you don’t have a set, to make one with your family throughout this Advent, the next year, or make plans for a swap so you have one for the next Advent. At the end of this post is a link to my Pinterest board, and a link to the booklet document with all of our scriptures. Prepare the way of the Lord!
Creation– We purchased clear glass ornaments then Gem and El swished in some green acrylic paint with a paintbrush. They squirted in generous amounts of light and dark blue and swirled it about for a water and cloud affect. I wish we would have let the green dry first, but now we know. And I thought I was very clever and original with this only to see others online. Humility!
The Fall: Finding little apples to add snakes to proved difficult so when the girls spied these at the craft store for 29 cents we snatched ’em up. Gem and El used acryllic paint again and while it was wet, went hog wild with ultra fine glitter to make it look extra tempting.
Mary: This one was agonizing for me as I wanted something beautiful to do justice to Our Lady. Inspired by vintage and mixed media art, this paper, glitter, and doily piece was the final result.
Noah and the Ark: Jac really outdid himself with this one. He and Phil traced the pattern I made onto leather and then labored to cut them out and punch them. Tess strung the rainbow ribbons while Jac decided no one would know what it was without the details and set to work on the boards and nails. It’s one of my faves.
Blessing of Abraham: Speaking of favorites, I really like this one, too. It’s supposed to be a camel and a tent. We had left over canvas from FNE banners so I cut out the tents, zig-zagged the edges, painted on the camels. . . but it needed a little something. Bright tassels seemed to be it!
Sacrifice of the Son: In remembrance of my great-grandparent’s sheep ranching and strong opinions about black faced sheep, I used some tan craft felt, sketched out a lamb silhouette (Phil advised) and cut them out. Gem helped me dip them in a watered down glue mixture to stiffen them. When dry, Phil and Tess gave them their fleece by winding some leftover yarn about their middles, necks and haunches.
Joseph in Egypt: I wanted a colorful fabric but all of my stripes were pretty feminine. I found a scrap of this from a Holy Handbag commission and it seemed right. I used the same inexpensive floral wire that I used for Gemma’s Mary crown and fashioned little hangers I glued the coats to.
Passover: I copied the door from our set, found 4 rectangle tags in a package at the craft store, had Max wood burn the outline of the lintels and then swiped some red acrylic paint on for the blood.
Ten Commandments: We made cornstarch clay for school at the end of October and I shaped up 8 tablets then. After baking, I dabbed on different shades of gray acrylic paint and used a toothpick to paint on the numbers. I used a strong glue to glue them together and to afix a paperclip for hanging.
The Promised Land: I saw this idea on Pinterest – to use the pompoms to make grapes. I had the green felt and floral wire in my stash so it seemed right to add leaves and a curly stem.
Bronze Serpent: This is, hands down, my least favorite of the bunch. But, do tell, how are you supposed to fashion a serpent on a stick?! I opted for metallic puff paint on a branch. Blah.
Jonah: What fun it was to make these guys! It was my first go at amirugumi and it sure was easy and satisfying. It was also satisfying to have just enough! of the two blue yarns I used.
Ruth and Boaz: I can’t hear ‘Boaz’ without thinking of my cousin Tom suggesting it as a name for his son. . . Anyway, I wrapped two strands of raffia around my hand, tied it in the middle with some fabric scraps and trimmed the ends. Ta da! Wheat!
David and Goliath: I saw it on Pinterest and it seemed the sturdiest way to make a slingshot. Phil and Jac cut these out of buffalo leather and Tess and I strung them with old cotton rope.
God’s Forgotten Scroll is Found: Old scrapbooking paper rolled up and tied with seam binding. Jac opted to make these instead of using the stamps on the hearts and I think he wished he had chosen otherwise in the end.
Prophecy: A Shoot From the Stump of Jesse: Max cut a branch into little stumps, Jac drilled a tiny hole and I hot glued a bit of a silk flower leaf in the hole. Tiny eye screws provide the hanging spot.
Prophecy: The New Creation: I fretted over this one, too. How to do the lion and the lamb together? SIMPLY. Lots of ideas online had them back to back, but I wanted them side by side. The Holy Spirit inspired this as I worked on another project and it ended up being my favorite piece. Two wooden beads painted (faces and tails!) and hung on twine.
Prophecy: The Prince of Peace: I didn’t find anything inspiring online until I ran across this little pattern. Just a pattern and picture and no instructions, I did as I saw fit. He’s stitched of flannel, has a felt crown and his less-than-thrilled eyes are embroidered knots.
Prophecy: The Good Shepherd: Max cut a metal hanger into lengths and then bent them into staffs. We worked together to attach twine with glue and wrap the length of the crook. Gemma loved these “Bishop thingies.”
Prophecy: Suffering Servant: Like the Mary piece, I wanted a beautiful cross. I found this searching for Cross Ornament on Pinterest. Two nails, silver wire and beads. I got the wire wrapped around the center of the nails, but Tess and Ellie finished the rest themselves.
The New Covenant: I was inspired by folksy, mixed media hearts online. It seemed fitting to use scraps from a quilt I made for Nate and Lace’s wedding to stitch these up. Jac helped me decide on the words and I used a stamp set he gave me long ago to stamp onto scrap fabric.
Bethlehem: Again, I copied the ornament from our set. These globes were at the Craft store for a steal so even though I was unimpressed with the glitter, I got them. It worked out in the end, i think. I painted a Bethlehem skyline, added yellow, glowing windows and stars.
Exile and Persecution: I made the flames the same way I made them for Gemma’s costume, stitching flame-like shapes onto two layers of gold fabric. I cut them out and layered them and then finished them off with a bit of netting I had.
Return to Jerusalem: The same day I made the Ten Commandments, I made the walls. I pressed the pattern into the clay and painted them later.
Christmas Star: So very many beautiful options out there, it was hard to choose. In the end, I went with crochet because I wanted to see if it really was possible to use bakers twine. It was! We stiffened these with the same watered down glue mixture we used with the lambs, pinning the points to some wax papered cardboard to help shape them. I should’ve added glitter. . .
Light of the World: I found this one online. A little white felt rolled up and a tiny felt (and craft foam, in this case) flame glued in.
Angels Proclaim the Miraculous Birth: Again, so many choices, but not many met up with my qualifying standards. Maybe it’s because Gemma is still so enamored with Angels and Mary that I wanted something that could be handled and still look good. I found the instructions for this on Pinterest . . . but they were in Russian. The pictures helped and I made things up when needed. Made of pieces of satin, lace, tulle, and ribbon.
The Birth of Jesus: Found on Pinterest, I used raffia for the hay, wrapped a little peg doll in white flannel (helped with hot glue) and wrapped it in twine. Aside from the swaddling, it was super simple.
Four sets of these were made and sent to friends. I told Jac, as we put the last ornaments together, that I wish I had done more. Next year!
My Pinterest Board of Jesse Tree Inspiration
The Scriptures we use in PDF format.
Prepare the way of the Lord!