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Catholic Activity: Catholic Culture's Jesse Tree Overview



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Isaiah 11:1-3a contains the Messianic Prophecy of the origins of the Messiah:

But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Artistic Expressions

Translations vary for "the stump of Jesse"; it has also been referred to as the rod, root or stem of Jesse. Isaiah's passage and the genealogy of Jesus as found in the Gospels of Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23–38 are the main inspiration for art depicting Jesus' family tree. The earliest example can be found in a manuscript from the 11th century, but there are multiple examples of interpretation and depicted in different media (manuscripts, paintings, wood carvings, stone carvings, stained glass, etc.) through the centuries. Jesse is usually depicted as reclining at the base of the image, with vines or branches or stems coming from his "root" and all the different ancestors of Christ depicted, sometimes with other key "players" included, such as different prophets of the Old Testament, with Jesus shown as the flower of Jesse.

During the Middle Ages there was another development in religious art, often referred to as "Mystery Plays"–-drama that depicted various Biblical accounts or lives of the saints. For many years these plays were performed in churches as part of the liturgical celebrations, but then moved to other venues. One such play was based on the account in the Book of Genesis of the fall of Adam and Eve. The "Tree of Life" used during the play was decorated with apples, and also bread for the manna. (This might be the original inspiration for the modern Christmas tree.)

Beginning an Advent Devotion

Beginning in the 20th century developed a prayerful tradition of the "Jesse Tree" using the inspiration of the art of the Jesse Tree and the Mystery Play's Tree of Life. Within this practice there is a wide range of interpretation of which figures to include in the Jesse Tree. Some choices are very literal and only use the family line of Jesus, others include salvation history with key biblical figures, including prophets, and still others incorporating events and typology and symbols not always connected with a certain person. Each day a person or type of Christ is pondered, sometimes accompanied with Scripture readings and prayers, and an ornament with the symbols is hung on the Jesse Tree. The "tree" can be a real or artificial tree, a tree branch, a felt or quilted fabric hanging, a jewelry tree, dowels and rods, a poster, etc.

Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle on November 30, and always includes four Sundays. This means the earliest Advent can begin is November 27, or as late as December 3. It all depends on what day of the week Christmas falls. If Christmas is on a Sunday, that is the longest possible Advent of 28 days. Christmas on a Monday means the shortest Advent of only 22 days.

Catholic Culture's Jesse Tree

Catholic Culture's Jesse Tree is expanded to include 28 days for the longest length of Advent (November 27-December 24). This list is a combination of both the genealogy of Christ, several prophets, and also some of the key figures of salvation history. The O Antiphons which begin on December 17 will now be simultaneously presented with the Jesse Tree. See O Antiphons—December 17-23 for more information.

Advent 2022 is 28 days, so all the potential Jesse Tree figures are included this year. The table below has asterisks next to the names that could be combined in other shorter Advents.

In addition, there are two extra pages. The Annunciation and the Visitation could be used to substitute any of the current Jesse Tree figures. Option 1—The Annunciation and Option 2—The Visitation.

There is no set program for the Jesse Tree done as an Advent devotion. It can be as simple as adding the Jesse Tree figure and the short Scripture quote to personal prayer and meditation or it can be more elaborate with a "tree" with symbols made into ornaments, a prayer service that includes reading a short Scripture quote. It can be a personal, family, or even school or larger community devotion. There is a Jesse Tree Prayer Service that could be a model for your own family Jesse Tree devotion.

For further reading and meditation, there are suggested Scripture readings and links to sections in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that are related to each Jesse Tree figure.

There is also a printable Jesse Tree PDF guide that follows the Catholic Culture Jesse Tree: The Jesse Tree: Advent 2022.

For further information regarding the Jesse Tree, see the posts by Jennifer Gregory Miller:


Day Jesse Tree Person or Symbol, Page Link Symbol Scripture
Day 1 2022
(Nov 27)
Creation Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth Genesis 1-2
Day 2
(Nov 28)
Adam and Eve Tree, Man and Woman Genesis 2:7-9; 18-24
Day 3
(Nov 29)
Fall of Man Tree with Fruit, Apple, Apple or Fruit with bite out of it Genesis 3:1-7, 9, 14-29, 23-24
Day 4
(Nov 30)
Noah Ark, animals, dove with branch, rainbow Genesis 6:5-8; 7:11-16; 8:15-16; 9:12-13
Day 5
(Dec 1)
*Abraham Torch, Sword, Mountain, Tent, Stars Genesis 12:1-7; 15:1-6; 17:4-6; 21:3-5; Isaiah 51:2; Hebrews 11:8; Romans 4:19
*Day 6
(Dec 2)
*Sarah baby cradle, outline of woman, crown, stars Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-17; Isaiah 51:2; Hebrews 11:11; 1 Peter 3:6; Romans 4:19; Galatians 4:21-31
Day 7
(Dec 3)
Melchizedek Bread and Wine Genesis 14:17-20; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:5-6; 7:1-28
Day 8
(Dec 4)
Isaac Bundle of Wood, Ram Genesis 22:1-19; 26:1-5
Day 9
(Dec 5)
Jacob Ladder Gen. 25:19-34; 27:1-40; 28:10-22; 32:23-33
Day 10
(Dec 6)
Joseph Coat of many Colors, Coat with long sleeves, Sheaf, Silver Coins, Bag with Silver Coins Genesis 37:3-4, 12-24, 28; 45:3-13
Day 11
(Dec 7)
*Moses Baby in Basket, Stone Tablets, Burning Bush, Red Sea, Cloud, Manna, Ark of the Covenant Exodus 2:1-10, 2: 23-25--3:1-20; Exodus 31:16-18
Day 12
(Dec 8)
*Joshua Sword and Trumpet Joshua 6:1-20
Day 13
(Dec 9)
*Samuel Lamp, Temple, Horn with Oil 1 Samuel 1:9-28; 3:1-21; 16:1-13
Day 14
*Ruth Sheaves of Grain Ruth 1:1-10, 16-19; 2:1-17; 4:10, 17, 22
Day 15
(Dec 11)
Jesse Crimson Robe, Shepherd's Staff 1 Samuel 16:1-13, 18-22; Isaiah 11:1
Day 16
(Dec 12)
David Six-Pointed Star, Slingshot and 4 Stones, Harp, Crown, Key 1 Samuel 11:1-17; 17:12-51; 2 Samuel 5:3-4; 12:1-7;
Day 17
(Dec 13)
Solomon Scales of Justice, Temple, Crown 1 Kings 3:5-14, 16-28; 5:1-15; 8:14-21; 10:1-13
Day 18
(Dec 14)
*Elijah Raven, Fire and Altar 1 Kings 17:2-6; 17:9-24; 18; 17-18:21-39; 19:11-13; 2 Kings 2:1, 8-14; Matthew 17:1-13
Day 19
(Dec 15)
*Jonah Whale Jonah 1:11-15; 2:1-16; 3:1-16; Matthew 12:39-41; Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29-31
Day 20
(Dec 16)
Micah small building or city (of Bethlehem) Micah 5:1-4a; Matthew 2:1-12
Day 21
(Dec 17)
*Judith Scale of Justice, Temple, Crown, Sword Judith 13:1-28
Day 22
(Dec 18)
*Daniel Lions Daniel 1, 2, 4, 6, 13, 14
Day 23
(Dec 19)
Isaiah Burning Coal, scroll, tree stump Isaiah 6:5-8; 7:1, 14; 11:1-3a, 6-9; 40:3-5, 10-11; 60: 3-9; 62:1-3
Day 24
(Dec 20)
*Zechariah censor or thurible, tablet Luke 1:5-25; 57-80
Day 25
(Dec 21)
*Elizabeth small house Luke 1:36, 39-57
Day 26
(Dec 22)
St. Joseph Carpenter Tools: Carpenter's Square, saw

Matthew 1:1-17; Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 2:22-38; Matthew 2:13-15; Matthew 2:19-23; Luke 2:41-52

Day 27
(Dec 23)
Mary Lily, Crown of Stars Genesis 3:15; Song 4:7; Sirach 24:20-21; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38; Revelation 12
Day 28
(Dec 24)
St. John the Baptist Shell, camel hair, grasshopper, sandal, river Matthew 3:1-12; Matthew 11:2-15; Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; John 1:6-13

In addition, there are two extra pages that could be substituted:

Day Jesse Tree Person or Symbol, Page Link Symbol Scripture
Option 1: The Annunciation lily; fleur de lis; book; Angel Luke 1:26-38; Song of Songs 2:10-14; 4:7, Sirach 24:13-19; Isaiah 7:14; Revelation 12
Option 2 The Visitation Our Lady's Slipper Luke 1:39-47; Luke 7:28; Genesis 18:14; Songs 2:8-14

Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003-2022 by Jennifer Gregory Miller