Traditions play a role in our family’s tapestry in dynamic dimensions.
As a traditions consultant for many years, I can share traditions for every holiday and celebration that you can think of, and most likely, many that would never cross your mind. Often, the traditions I share on here are just for fun, but this one plays a strong role in developing a spiritual heritage as well.
A forefront on the mantel of expectation each morning during the Christmas season has been our traditional Jesse Tree Advent family time.
The advent Jesse Tree seeks to tell the story of God’s redemptive plan for all the world through twenty five symbols from the Old and New Testament. The symbols trace the heritage of our Lord through the very beginning of creation right to the birth of Jesus.
There is a phrase that states, “The Old Testament conceals what the New Testament reveals.”
Seeing the blending of the two for this holiday season is priceless.
There are numerous people that have put their own twist on how they celebrate this season during advent by using the Jesse Tree, but with the word “Advent” meaning “coming”, the main focus is the same; a time of celebration and anticipation of the coming of our Savior.
Culturally, we put so much emphasis on Christmas day, but forget to prepare our hearts and focus on the “reason for the season.”
Our family begins the Jesse Tree tradition on December. 1 by placing the first symbol on the tree, and then we carve out a few family moments every day through Dec. 25.
“Do what?” I hear you ask?
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Simply put, each day, we put a Jesse Tree ornament on our little “Jesse Tree” that symbolizes some aspect of God’s plan for our lives. The Jesse Tree is given prominence at the center of our table. (This tree can be any kind of creation. I’ve had tiny “Charlie Brown” trees that we cut from our woods, but now we have been using a 2′ fake tree purchased from Michael’s Craft Store with a coupon.)
We have a short family devotional time with questions and answers, discussion and reading of the bible verses that focuses on the scripture for the day. Some families choose to sing the suggested songs from the book as well. For instance, day one starts at the very beginning of time – Creation and Day 25 ends with the baby Jesus in the manager. (Now, I know the story only begins there, and what a grand finale it will be.)
It’s a time that my children anticipate, and now that we are on our sixth year of going through the symbols, it is so neat to see how the kids slowly remember them from past years. I ask them each day if they remember from last year what the ornament signifies, and it’s amazing to hear the truths revealed. (Now, our oldest sons may not anticipate it as much as they did in the past, but I can guarantee that when they look back on poignant childhood memories, this will definitely be one sealed in their hearts. I take comfort in that fact, as I may “force” the bonding every once in awhile. ;))
A few years back, I organized a Jesse Tree ornament exchange, and you can see below my box holding each precious ornament. Each one is placed in a ziplock bag with a slip of paper that states the day, the symbol and the person who made the ornament, since after this many years, it’s so easy to forget.
Since the Jesse Tree is focused on twenty five symbols, which we do in the form of ornaments, I invited women to each make one hand made ornament (twenty four times over, plus one for themselves) for an ornament exchange.
Some people choose to do two ornaments since they wanted them for multiple children. My desire is to send one set with each of my children when they launch into adulthood on their own. I have made three sets so far, with two more to do. I ran out of time this year, but guess what I will be organizing next year – preferably in the summer?
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to prepare your hearts for this Christmas season, it’s just a matter of taking the time to slow down enough to focus on this most amazing Savior.
(One of my photo card has pictures of all 25 ornaments with the different variations that friends have made over the years. I plan on organizing another Jesse Tree ornament exchange this year and can explain in detail how we organize our exchange – simple style. 🙂
Three years ago, our family had the privilege of making the cross ornament. There would be so many easy ways to have done 25 of these, but I wanted our children to participate and be fully involved. They gathered sticks from our woods, and carved each one. What a precious time around the table we had in making these. (And yes, finished at 1:00 am the morning of the exchange. ;)).
(Our first Jesse Tree. This size is perfect until about day 18, and then it’s crowded. I’ve graduated to a slightly bigger one now, which keep in the middle of our kitchen table..)
The book we have used over the years is The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. You can get it from any book store or on-line.
“Each devotional story is paired with a representative symbol that traces the heritage of Jesus…such as a lamb, a dove, a rainbow, a heart, a star, etc.
Children and their parents can utilize the symbolic line art printed with each daily devotion to craft meaningful ornaments.
These symbols coincide with the prayers, a memory verses, questions for children, and songs found in the devotions for that day.
Finally, on Christmas day, your tree will be filled with reminders of 25 Bible stories that led up to Christ’s birth.”
I’ve now switched to my friend, Ann’s new advent book,Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas,
specifically for families. It’s not only beautiful, but written this year with her own kids (and all of ours) in mind. It’s based off her book, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas which is incredibly powerful. Reading them both hand in hand this holiday season will be life changing for your family.
Homemade Jesse Tree Ornament Exchange Ideas
I now have five sets of Jesse Tree ornaments for each of our children. When they begin their life independent from us, whether that be married or just living completely on their own, they will each receive a set for their own family’s tradition. Each set is so different and it’s fun to see all the creative ways that people interpret their ornament for the exchange.
This was the most recent ornament exchange that took place last week. What I love about this one was that everyone decided to do it at the last minute, and still the ornaments turned out wonderfully. Most of them were more simple than past years that I have participated, but honestly, the pressure was removed and they are still beautiful.
I don’t have all of them represented, but if you glance at all the pictures above, you should be able to see nearly each day somewhere in the pictures.
This past exchange, we set up a simple google doc that everyone could edit, and each person went in and picked the ornaments that they wanted to make (x 25). It was first come, first serve, so the procrastinators might have gotten stuck with the trickier ones (or the ones which required a bit more crafty talent.)
We sent out directions and politely mentioned the fact that while it’s fun to do all these ornaments with our children, these are going to be ornaments that we hand down, hopefully, from generation to generation, so keep that in mind.
Here’s the PDF of the Jesse Tree ornament labels that we used to include in each baggie. It’s a great way to remember which ornament is for which day. Jesse Tree Ornament labels
In past years, I requested a more detailed label with the scripture, symbol and who made it, because ten years from now, it’s wonderful to remember some of the friends who participated, some of which you haven’t seen in years. (Trust me, you will not remember who made what, even next Christmas.) A few of the ladies saw this post and knew that’s how I did it, so they came prepared. 🙂
Enjoy this special tradition. It can be a simple with just paper ornaments you color with your children each day or detailed heirloom quality handmade ornaments.
The goal: to point your month towards the Savior.
No one signed up for the Lion and the Lamb, so a few of us sat around at the end of the exchange and recreated this Lion and the Lamb out of Polymer Clay.
Never claiming to be a sculptor, my first few tries looked more like a dog, but by the end, we all did and they were adorable. It was a good lesson that even if you can’t get 25 ladies to each do one ornament (or less if some do 2-3), just go ahead with the exchange anyhow and you can fill in the few that aren’t made.
yes! help us remember and learn how to do this in advance of the christmas season! You are my only hope of remembering…ha!
I have a one year old and I am definitely thinking this needs to be added to our christmas traditions. I would love to see your ornaments for inspiration.
I love this idea! Today might already be December 2nd, but it can be started today with a little time and effort. Better log so I can get to cracking!
I would love more info on this, specifically what ornaments are needed. It’s just my husband and I for now but I’d love to start working on ornaments now so we’re all set up when kids come along! What a beautiful idea 🙂
Even without children, it’s such a wonderful tradition to take the few minutes every day to focus, but yes, I probably would not have done the handmade ornaments without the kids as an incentive. 😉
We also celebrate Advent with a Jesse Tree and Advent wreath. I love the ornaments you have pictured!
I would ABSOLUTELY be interested in knowing more about how to orchestrate an ornament exchange and would love to see individual pictures of all of the ornaments. I remember reading for the fist time about this tradition last year online and then my summer was SUPER crazy and forgot all about it. Having a reminder mid summer would be GREAT!! thanks so much for sharing!
This is something I would like to start with my kids, but as you said, it requires advance planning. So next summer would be a great time to help us all get started (or at least remind us about it so we don’t forget until December, again.). Thanks!
Yes! YES!! Please, Jen, do a post showing all the ornaments. Please, oh please do that! I would so love to see all the ornaments. I think this would be a great activity for our group of moms from church for next year–what fun an exchange would be! If you’ll write about this, I promise I’ll host this for our church next year–you’ll inspire me!!
Hope your family is doing great this holy day season!
Yes, please post pictures and maybe some simple directions for making these ornaments!! I would love to use this for our family’s advent. We have another advent series that we use now, but this one would be great!! Thanks for sharing.
I love this. Your account today of your kids being excited, your boys remembering the symbols from year to year, echoes my post of our own Advent Nativity tradition.
I didn’t know about Jesse Trees four years ago when I was looking for something like this to do with my boys. So I created our own version that walks us through the Nativity story during December. I made our ornaments that first year too. I didn’t get started until November, so I was putting together parts of it as we went along that first year.
I’ve added another component to our tradition now. In addition to reading the scripture that corresponds with our ornament, we read a Nativity-themed storybook that corresponds to that days ornament. I’m sharing the books we’re reading on my blog this month.
I would love to see the photos of all the ornaments and the information about the exchange. You get such a great assortment of ornaments when everyone puts their own twist on each one.
Thanks for sharing this.
@RefreshMom, One thing I didn’t mention….I took photos of our ornaments and created a photobook. Each 2-page layout has the photo, the scripture passage for the day and the words to an accompanying Christmas carol.
Right now we use that book to read the scripture from each evening, and when I give my boys each their own set of ornaments they’ll get a copy of the photobook to use as their guide to the tradition.
Oh yes! Please do a tutorial for this in the summer! I have a brand new grandson and would love for his parents to start this tradition next year for him. His name is Isaac and one day I would love to share with you(privately) where his name came from! He is such a blessing to us and I KNOW he will be a mighty warrior for God! What better way to start him on that path! Thank you for sharing with us!!!!
Yes! Please do a tutorial. I would love this.
This is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing!
YES please please do a post in the summer about this! I would absolutely love to organize one too but am not sure how to make it happen! Would love your reminder and ideas!
yes please please!!
Let me add my YES to the long list now. I’ve got cookies baking for a Christmas cookie exchange right now, and this sounds like a wonderful idea! Remind me!!!!
When I was looking for an advent activity to make into a tradition, I found the Jesse Tree this year. We are using the ornaments from Ann Voskamp’s beautiful free download now. I would very much appreciate seeing how you made your three dimensional ornaments. I hope to also be able to say in years to come that this Jesse Tree has become a treasured part of our Christmas celebration.
We do this every year with a felt banner tree with flat ornaments with velcro backings. The kids take turns with whose day it is, and they read the devotion and the Bible verse.
I think we have the same felt tree that you do. But over the past 15 years of using it, we have lost some of the ornaments and 1 of the devotion pages. Do you know I can find the craft instructions and devotion guide? ( I cant find that either 🙂 )
@Terri, I did mine with two sisters from Atlanta, Marci Maurer-Nunnery and Melinda Maurer Marshburn. The last time I tried to contact to order for someone else, I was only able to reach Marci at 404-378-9595. It was long enough ago that they didn’t provide an email address.
Oh yes! I would LOVE to know how to do it, etc… Please share 🙂
I absolutely love this-I have never heard of this before. I have been searching high and low for an advent wreath or calendar for my boys without all the Santa/candy themes about but I love this idea so much more-will definitely be making this a family tradition next year! Thanks!
Most definitely would love a more detailed post on the Jesse Tree and how you’ve done it. I used to do variations of this each yr with my sons. Since moving I have discovered I lost my materials and ornaments along the way GASP! My sons are all gone from the nest now so its time for me to pass it on down. It’ll be fun to create ornaments for each family!
I would love to know how to make the ornaments. Please blog more about the Jesse tree.
Oh please do! That would be a wonderful thing to work on in the summer to have ready for the next Christmas season. Thanks for all of your wonderful ideas. I really enjoy reading your blog.
Oh,please, in your “spare time” how I would appreciate it. This would be wonderful to make&send to my now out-of-town great-nephs&nieces,and how they can each make a set thereafter. Gives me time to get the readings both you&Emily Freeman have mentioned, so the families can choose their own personal traditions. Am kinda hosed to get much done this season,re-fractured old knee frax(avascular necrosis,aka dead joint/bones), but wud love to offer this into their homes from “Ah-Soo-See”. Miss them so much…-s-
So sorry to hear about your knee, Susan. I’ll be praying for that injury.
Thanks much Jen. Was improving till had to slam on brakes to avoid a child en route to Dr. Would rather be back to worse than to have hit a little one,but oh my,lousy steenkin timing. Missed Dr,too! Only me 😀 -s-
yes please and thank you so much. I have wanted to do this forever. I have been gathering resoures just in the last few months. It finally seems to be coming together. yeah!!
Here’s the link I used to print my ornaments and scripture: http://www.eriercd.org/jessetree.htm
I use a door by our dinning room table to make our 1D tree and we discuss one each night during dinner.
I’d love to see what ya’ll come up with later in the year. I keep forgetting about preparing ornaments for the coming year, and only remember when I have no time to do them. This year, I’m working on them NOW, for NEXT year to keep for the future.
You had me at TRADITION Missy! I love love love this idea and welcome it into my home. I have visions of hours spent at our kitchen table fashioning ornaments for trees as gifts for those friends “who have everything, don’t need anything, or could easily buy it for themselves.” PERFECT and DIVINE. Please direct this not so computer savvy Mom to the link to pics of each ornament. We have our own twist on a couple but would love to see what you have.
I knew there would come a time when having 4 children would come in handy! Many hands make little work–my Mamaw used to say!
Let me know when you publish your book on traditions and if you haven’t written one yet….you really should!
A buddy of mine and me have outlined this specific theme. Your blog write-up help resolved our argument. I am going to keep reading more posts! Thanks a lot.
OK, it’s June 3rd…summer officially began with Memorial Day Weekend, right? When will we all get our tutorials on the Jesse Tree Ornaments??? *grin*
Hi! I make Jesse Tree Ornaments for Advent. Here’s the link to my Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/acupofjoy
Custom orders are welcome. I currently have a Christmas special on shipping for Jesse Tree Ornaments – $5 Worldwide!
Happy counting down to Jesus’ birthday!
deborah@homemakerhoney . com
A friend sent your words to me today, and this means so much to me. I am the one who wrote the book, The Advent Jesse Tree. I wrote it about 23 years ago when my children were small, and it has been so much fun to hear comments about how it is blessing families all over the world throughout these years. If anyone of your friends wants to order the book they can go to a bookstore like you said or go to Amazon.com and order there. I pray the book will continue to bless your family.
Dean Meador Lambert Smith
I also wrote a book for the lenten season which is “The Lenten Tree”. It is on the same format as the Jesse Tree and has illustrations for each day that can be made into ornaments. You can get this book by ordering it also from Amazon or a book store. If you have trouble, go to Abingdon Press.com and order it there. that is the publishing company out of Nashville, TN
What an honor to have you find my post in my little corner of the blogosphere. The Lord has used you so mightily through this book.
Thank you for being faithful in modeling what you did with your family to us all.
If you are ever interested in sharing a post here in relationship to your book, how the Lord prompted you or anything from a 23 years perspective looking back, I’d be honored to post it here as a follow up.
Wow! I’ve never heard of this and I am VERY interested!! (Nothing like coming to the party a year late! haha!) Joy from Five J’s recommended your blog to me – she’s GREAT – and she was right about your blog being great! 🙂 Love it! Definitely going to reread and contemplate making a Jesse Tree….just not this month, we will plan to start that in January! 😀
I was wondering how you organized an ornament exchange.
@Crissy, Chrissy –
I am in the process of getting another exchange together and hoping to post about it, but it may be too late for you this year.
I am going to make ornaments this year. I like the ones you shared and would love to see them all. Is it possible to see the whole set?
I am working on getting a post up with all the ornaments, but am leaving for Peru in three days, so will not have it up for at least 2 weeks. So sorry.
We are doing a take on the Jesse tree for our church Christmas program! Had never heard of it before. Our kids have a verse about the ark so we had to make an ark ornament this past week! Such fun!!
I have been using the Jesse Tree idea for about five years in my seventh grade CCD class with scriptures. Due to limited time teaching on the subject of “Advent” our class makes ornaments out if foam sheets. It brings out the artist in the students and every year they seem to enjoy it and the Bible scriptures as well. Then we add them to a real cedar tree outside on the church grounds at our annual ” Christmas in the Oaks” with live Nativity. Each class has a different theme. With the ornaments made from foam sheets it withholds the outside weather also.
I would like to see pictures of the ornaments that you have made. I have been wanting to upgrade, to the children actually making their craft at home and bringing them to class. Instead of using class time, involving their family making their craft.
Keep me posted with more information. It will be an idea to suggest to our Ladies Auxiliary to do for a Christmas party and exchange the ornaments at that time.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church – Dedeaux
Pass Christian, MS 39571
That’s such a neat idea to do in your CCD class. Love that the kids have that opportunity. I plan on getting additional pictures up this week, so check back. 🙂
This is the first year we did a Jesse Tree & so for something simple, my granddaughter colored some ornamental squares I found online. However, I really love your homemade ornaments. Will you be giving complete instructions on how to make them? That would be a good project to begin even in the summer as a once a week craft. I would even purchase a booklet of instructions!
I am doing a Jesse tree for the second year with my kids (7, 5, 4, 1) and the three oldest get to color a paper circle ornament each day. After coloring, we glue the three together into a sort of circle and add a string and hang on the christmas tree. They love how each ornament is partly theirs.
Jen,thanks for this post. I love the idea of using a Jesse Tree to keep focussed on Jesus during Advent, and as much as I’d like to make beautiful heirloom ornaments, that’s just not going to happen this year. I found a website with daily Bible readings and pictures of simple but lovely felt ornaments , so I got busy with felt, scissors, and leftover school glue last night. My daughter brought in a branch from the back yard to be our “tree”, and we did the first three readings and hung those ornaments with loops of thread. Maybe by next year we can upgrade our ornaments, but the worship and celebration have started already. What a great tradition.
ABsolutely, Nancy – I would never have been able to attempt the homemade ornaments unless I had done the exchange. There are SO many wonderful Jesse Tree options just like you mentioned and I know the one you are doing. It’s wonderful.
Yep, it’s “good enough”!
Jen-This has become one of our favorite family traditions after seeing your post last year. We created a set of ornaments for our own Jesse tree. As we were putting up our Jesse tree this year, my three year old son, who is a huge Toy Story fan, said, “What about Woody?.”
Carrie – I LOVE THAT!! I am sure Woody can fit into the scenario last year. I mean, He came to seek and save everyone, right? 😉
I love the ornament for the fiery furnace…too clever and cute! I can really appreciate this post, as I make Jesse Tree Ornaments…a variety of sets. I love making them. My favorite is the coat of many colors, especially when sequins and beads are added…so pretty!
Pink Scissors Design on Etsy
It’s been so fun over the years, for sure. 🙂
I am very curious about your Bethlehem skyline ornament…can you post some details about how it was made? Was it freehand painted or somehow printed from a photo? It is my favorite and I have looked at MANY a Jesse Tree blog post!
@Jodi, Jodi – First, there was blending of the paints on top and then the skyline was freehand using paint pen. Wish there was something for you to print off, but there’s not.
@Jodi, Oops and forgot to add that I am SO thrilled you enjoyed it. 🙂
So wish I would have seen this early enough to organize a swap like this! So putting this on my to-do list for next year.Loved this so much I shared it as part of my 5 Days of Advent: Jesse Tree post.
So glad you found it and yes, put it on the to do for next year. We’ve done it during the summer which has been great too.
Thank You! So much for sharing this! I teach the Bible at our church pre-school and I so want to start doing this in December with the children! I love traditions and things that plant Gid’s Word in hearts! I can’t wait to get the Book; to start making the ornaments and studying up for the lessons!! Again! THANK YOU!!
Can you share the picture that has all 25 days with the variations? I would love to see it. My three yr old and I are planning to do two sets of ornaments to gift to the homes that our church supports for missionaries on furlough. They typically don’t have a lot of Christmas decoration, so we wanted to unload some cheer on them =) Would love to see your variations for inspiration!
need instructions for fiery furnace ornament
Thank you so much for sharing this! I was inspired to do my own Jesse Tree ornament exchange party as a result and it was such a wonderful community effort. I’m so grateful I found you through Pinterest; this was an awesome idea!
YAY!! I am so thrilled to hear this. I’d love to see a picture of your gathering (or ornaments) and I can add it to this post.
Do you have instructions for the Bible tree ornaments? They are adorable and I’d like to make them with my Sunday School class. They just received their Bibles.
Thank you. I’m sorry. I don’t have specific instructions but they’re fairly easy to copy by looking at the example. What a fun idea to do you with your class.
I love the little bibles! My kids love all things small and miniature 🙂 Cute idea!
How many women did you have for your Jesse tree ornament exchange event? I would love to do this but I am intimidated. Will I be able to get enough women to join me?
Hi Tracy – so sorry I am just seeing this now. Since it’s a bit late, i would shoot for organizing it and doing something this summer or in the fall. It’s a fun thing to do outside the holidays when there’s not so much on everyone’s plate.
Do we have to buy the book to do this activity or do you have a list of the scriptures that go along with the ornaments? if so, I’d love to see the list.
You wouldn’t have to buy the book. I am sure if you googled Jesse Tree, there would be others who have listed the scriptures etc. It’s a special advent tradition for sure.