Tuesday 26 November 2013

Our Jesse Tree Journey

Currently caught between a toddler threatening to drop her daytime nap and a cluster feeding newborn, I fear the next few blog posts may be rather a jigsaw of stolen moments and one fingered typing over a feeding infant.

This Sunday as a whole family of four, we ventured out to one of our first local Christmas fairs. I'm not ashamed to say that I absolutely love Christmas and the first sounds of live carols normally tip me into tears, but this year, seeing my toddler's enthralled face as she watched performances as diverse as the Salvation Army band and a teenage choir, promises to be all the more magical. Christmas feels so meaningful with little ones in the house, and as I think it will be the first one that Culturebaby (now just 2) actually remembers, it seems like an important time to begin to think about creating our own family traditions and memories of Christmas. Culturedad and I each have things that we have valued and enjoyed from our own childhood and it is exciting to piece together our favourites, create hybrids and also start some new traditions of our own.

From my side, as a Catholic, something I love is the extremely rich tradition and visual symbolism - a wonderful mine for Christmas ideas. Did you know, for instance, that the wreaths hanging on our doors represent the eternal nature of God; and when we Deck the Halls with boughs of Holly, we are referencing the crown of thorns? As I mentioned in a previous post about a trip to the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, the plethora of statues and images found in churches have been a great way to start to talk to Culturebaby about baby Jesus and his mum. She finds them really interesting and has begun to spot them in art - for toddlers the familiar seems to catch their eye the most, and what better than Christmas scenes with their animals, bright colours and joyful imagery?

When Culturebaby was baptised last year, her Godmother bought me a truly inspiring book called The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould. I'm afraid I'm not really one for much theological reading, but this book is practical and brilliant. Taking a parent on a journey through the year, it explains festivals and feast days, gives a background to the symbolism and suggests lots of lovely traditions that can be celebrated as a family in the home. One that really leapt out at me was a section about advent and preparing for the true meaning of Christmas. There's a whole range of ideas in the book, but a particularly brilliant one to do with young children is to create your own Jesse tree. At primary school I remember one year us doing just that - as a giant wall display - and I must have found it so interesting that I can still picture it now. Reminded of this by Gould's book, and excited by the fact that this is actually a centuries old family devotion that is recently making a come-back, last year we created our own Jesse tree. It was such an enjoyable thing to do that we are planning to revive it every year and make it a new tradition that we began as a family. This year it will be so much better too as Culturebaby will be able to be really involved in it.

So what is it?

A Jesse Tree, which is hung with ornaments and symbols representing Old Testament people and events, is based on the passage from Isaiah 11:1 "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." and Matthew Chapter 1. Essentially it represents Jesus's family tree. Apparently these days you can buy sets of ready-made ornaments, but we enjoyed creating our tree from a sturdy branch we found in the park near our house and the symbols from objects we found around the house. This was a great way to use Christmas decorations, old bits of playmobil and rattles through to real apples, musical instruments and coloured-in shapes too (it is rather hard to find a technicolour dreamcoat lying around)...

Here's the list of symbols (one to be added each day like an advent calendar) taken from Meredith Gould's book:

December 1st - The World is Created – Globe – Genesis 1:24-28
December 2nd - Adam and Eve – Snake and Apples – Genesis 3:1-24
December 3rd - Noah and the Flood – Rainbow – Genesis 6:11-22; 8:6-12; 9:11-17
December 4th - Abraham – Camel – Genesis 12:1-7:13:2-18; 18:1
December 5th - Sarah – Baby – Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
December 6th - Isaac – Ram – Genesis 22:1-14
December 7th - Jacob – Ladder – Genesis 27:41-28:22
December 8th - Joseph – Multicolored Coat – Genesis 37:1-36
December 9th - Moses – Burning Bush – Exodus 3:1-10
December 10th - Miriam – Tambourine – Exodus 15:19-21
December 11th - Samuel – Lamp – 1 Samuel 3:1-21
December 12th - Jesse – Branch – Isaiah 11:1
December 13th - David – Harp – 1 Samuel 16:14-23
December 14th - Solomon – Crown – 1 Kings 3:3-28
December 15th - Isaiah – Throne – Isaiah 6:1-8
December 16th - Jeremiah – Tablets of Law – Jeremiah 31:31- 34
December 17th - Angels – Angel – Hebrews 1:1-14
December 18th - Malachi – Trumpet – Malachi 3:1-4
December 19th - Zechariah and Elizabeth – Baby - Luke 1:39- 45
December 20th - Mary – Angel – Luke 1:29-35
December 21st - John the Baptist – River – Matthew 3:1-6
December 22nd - Joseph of Nazareth – Hammer/Saw – Matthew 1:18-25
December 23rd - Bethlehem – Star – Matthew 2:1-12
December 24th - Birth of Christ – Crib – Luke 2:1-7

We also tried to bring the experience alive by reading a story about each symbol each day. Some of these were harder than others to find, and we had a good few gaps. We'd love to hear about great children's books covering some of the more obscure passages that you have come across too. There are plenty on Adam and Eve, Noah, Joseph and Moses, but Miriam and Malachi are rather lesser known! I imagine this will be a work in progress over a few years...

We'll try to write about our advent journey a little more in the coming weeks, but we'd love it if you fancy joining us in creating a Jesse tree too and sharing your experience of it with us. It is such a fantastic tradition (absolutely not just for Catholics), and so easy and fun to do, that it would be brilliant to revive it in the home once more.


  1. This is fab Culture Family - I feel a challenge has been set to write some accessible Bible stories for the obscure bits. May well dabble with this to produce something useful for Advent 2015 - challenge accepted!

    1. I like your thinking Mrs B. Can imagine you would do an excellent job of it too... X

  2. This is a really lovely idea, thank you so much for sharing and I look forward to reading your coming posts :)

    1. Thank you! Love your little advent calendar boxes by the way.


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