Catholic Activity: Jesse Tree Instructions
A short history of the Jesse Tree, ideas on how to create a tree and ornaments, and suggested Scripture verses for each ornament.
To make the Jesse Tree ornaments you will need: glue; ribbon or yarn (preferably purple); and crayons, markers, paints or colored pencils, and cardboard stock to create paper background for the ornaments. The ornaments may be decorated with bits and pieces of bright colored paper, cloth, wood, plastic, etc., that you may find around your home. You will also need a Bible.
THE STORY OF THE JESSE TREE
Jesse was the father of the great King David of the Old Testament. He is often looked upon as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus.
In Church art a design developed showing the relationship of Jesus with Jesse and other biblical personages. This design showed a branched tree growing from a reclining figure of Jesse. The various branches had pictures of other Old and New Testament figures who were ancestors of Jesus. At the top of the tree were figures of Mary and Jesus. This design was used mostly in stained glass windows in some of the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. The Cathedral of Chartres (which was dedicated in 1260) has a particularly beautiful Jesse Tree window.
Another development in religious art during the Middle Ages was that of Mystery Plays–drama that depicted various Bible stories or lives of Saints and Martyrs. These plays were performed in churches as part of the liturgical celebrations. One such play was based on the Bible account of the fall of Adam and Eve. The "Tree of Life" used during the play was decorated with apples. (Quite possibly this is also the forerunner of our own Christmas tree.)
Combining the two ideas of the stained glass Jesse Tree window and the Tree of Life from the Mystery Play we come up with our Jesse Tree Advent project. This custom has been used for years to help Christians to prepare for Christmas.
YOUR OWN JESSE TREE
It will take planning and work from each family member to make your own Jesse Tree. The needed materials are usually found around most homes.
First of all, you will need a Bible. If there are very small children in the family, a Bible picture story book will help them understand the Bible stories used.
The tree itself can be one of several types. A small artificial tree works fine, as does a tree branch that is anchored in a bucket or a large can of sand or gravel. The tree branch looks particularly attractive if painted white and sprinkled with silver glitter while the paint is still wet. Another possibility is a large drawing of a tree on cardboard or poster board that can be hung on the wall.
The third thing needed is a set of ornaments to hang on the tree. These are best if they are homemade by various family members.
JESSE TREE ORNAMENTS
If you decide to use one symbol each day during December, there are 24 symbolic ornaments to make for your Jesse Tree, so each family member will need to make several. Making the ornaments is a good project for Sunday afternoons during Advent.
To make an ornament, first read the Scripture verses for the day. Then pick out one or two short verses that give the main idea. Copy these verses on the back of the ornament. By this time you will probably be thinking of various ways to illustrate your Scripture verses.
Use lots of creativity in making your ornament! You can use pictures from magazines or old greeting cards. Or draw pictures or symbols yourself. Color them with crayons, pencils, markers or paint. Look around the house for bits and pieces that will make your design beautiful!
JESSE TREE SCRIPTURES (The symbols are only suggestions)
December 1 Creation: Gen. 1:1-31; 2:1-4 Symbols: sun, moon, stars, animals, earth
December 2 Adam and Eve: Gen. 2:7-9, 18-24 Symbols: tree, man, woman
December 3 Fall of Man: Gen. 3:1-7 and 23-24 Symbols: tree, serpent, apple with bite
December 4 Noah: Gen. 6:5-8, 13-22; 7:17, 23, 24; 8:1, 6-22 Symbols: ark, animals, dove, rainbow
December 5 Abraham: Gen. 12:1-3 Symbols: torch, sword, mountain
December 6 Isaac: Gen. 22:1-14 Symbols: bundle of wood, altar, ram in bush
December 7 Jacob: Gen. 25:1-34; 28:10-15 Symbols: kettle, ladder
December 8 Joseph: Gen. 37:23-28; 45:3-15 Symbols: bucket, well, silver coins, tunic
December 9 Moses: Ex. 2:1-10 Symbols: baby in basket, river and rushes
December 10 Samuel: 1 Sam. 3:1-18 Symbols: lamp, temple
December 11 Jesse: 1 Sam. 16:1-13 Symbols: crimson robe, shepherd's staff
December 12 David: 1 Sam. 17:12-51 Symbols: slingshot, 6-pointed star
December 13 Solomon: 1 Kings 3:5-14, 16-28 Symbols: scales of justice, temple, two babies and sword
December 14 Joseph: Matt. 1:18-25 Symbols: hammer, saw, chisel, angle
December 15 Mary: Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38 Symbols: lily, crown of stars, pierced heart
December 16 John the Baptist: Mark 1:1-8 Symbols: shell with water, river
On December 17, the Church begins to intensify the preparation for Christmas with the use of the "O" Antiphons during the Liturgy of the Hours. The symbols for the Jesse Tree from December 17 to 23 are based on the "O" Antiphons.
December 17 Jesus is Wisdom: Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus in old Bibles) 24:2; Wisdom 8:1 Symbols: oil lamp, open book
December 18 Jesus is Lord: Ex. 3:2; 20:1 Symbols: burning bush, stone tablets
December 19 Jesus is Flower of Jesse: Isaiah 11:1-3 Symbols: flower, plant with flower
December 20 Jesus is Key of David: Isaiah 22:22 Symbols: key, broken chains
December 21 Jesus is the Radiant Dawn: Psalm 19:6-7 (in older Bibles this will be Psalm 18) Symbols: sun rising or high in sky
December 22 Jesus is King of the Gentiles: Psalm 2:7-8; Ephesians 2:14-20 Symbols: crown, scepter
December 23 Jesus is Emmanuel: Isaiah 7:14; 33:22 Symbols: tablets of stone, chalice and host
December 24 Jesus is Light of the World: John 1:1-14 Symbols: candle, flame, sun
Activity Source: Jesse Tree Kit, A by Betsy Walter, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, MA, 1983