The Jesse Tree Tradition


The tradition of the Jesse tree began as an art representation of the relationship between Jesse, the father of David and the first person in the genealogy of Jesus, and Jesus himself. These representations generally include a tree branching from the figure of a reclining or sleeping Jesse, with various Old and New Testament figures on the branches. This was often used in stained glass art. The number and identity of the figures in these depictions varies, depending on which source was used (there are a maximum of 43 generations between Jesse and Jesus if basing the representation on the genealogy from Luke). Typically included are Solomon and David, and Jesus at the top with Mary directly beneath him which shows that she was the means by which the “shoot of Jesse” was born. St. Joseph, despite being part of the genealogy, is rarely included. The Jesse tree was quite popular in the Medieval period, and again during the Gothic Revival art of the 19th century.

Today, people use Jesse trees to help celebrate Advent, sometimes as a replacement for Advent calendars. It is a fun project for those with smaller children, and involves making ornaments to put onto the tree – one for each day leading up to Christmas. There are 24 scripture passages to use, and with each passage there are different symbols that can be used to create the ornaments. These include symbols such as the sun or stars (creation in Genesis), man or woman (Adam and Eve), ladder (Joseph), ark or animals (Noah), burning bush (Moses), pierced heart (Mary), and many more – each going with the related scripture passage. The ornaments can be made from magazine cut-outs, hand-drawn pictures, or an ornament-making kit specifically for this activity. Often one or two of the verses from each passage are copied onto the back of the related ornament.

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