November 23, 2022

A Sister Servants’ Jesse Tree!

After a hiatus of two and a half years, we resumed our weekly Come, Follow Me class at the convent in September. Come, Follow Me is a catechetical journey with young children that uses prayerful reflection and dialogue on the Scriptures to provoke a free response of the children to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as His disciples. The year is divided into three parts: Welcoming the Love of God, Living in Communion with Jesus, and Acting and Living as a Child of the Church with the Holy Spirit.

For the past few weeks, we have been finishing up the first part of the year by looking at the History of the People of God, particularly through the figures of Abraham, Moses, Samuel and David. Each lesson includes a practical activity that reinforces the session and gives the children both something to help them grow in their private and family prayer life.

This past week’s lesson coincided with the Feast of Christ the King, and we talked about Samuel being called by God to go to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem to anoint the future King of Israel (cf. 1 Sam 16). We discussed how Jesus, the descendant of David, is the true King sent by God to His people to be not only the king of the universe but also the King of our hearts.

As I planned this lesson, I thought of the Jesse Tree, a custom I first learned about in the first grade at my parish grade school. I looked around at various sets available, and I asked Sr. Ave Maria if she could make a set based on the reflections found in Sara Estabrook’s The Mosaic Jesse Tree. Different sets of ornaments highlight different aspects of salvation history, and I chose these because it included meditations on the “O Antiphons” during the last days before Christmas–a particularly Catholic touch that also ties this practice into our liturgical life and customs at Casa Maria. This set’s meditations also take the Old Testament figures and relates them directly to the person of Jesus.

In our life as Sister Servants, we can attest to how a renewed study of Salvation History completely changes the way we approach Christmas. The tradition of the Jesse Tree does just that. Each day of December, the child or family reads about one part of Salvation History leading up to the birth of the Savior. Often the Jesse Tree is a dead tree branch symbolizing Isaiah’s prophecy of the shoot that will spring up from the stump of Jesse (Is 11:1). Though this tree (or branch) looks dead, it is the instrument God will use to bring forth a curious sequence of events, making way for the greatest Event of all: the Incarnation and Savior’s birth. Familiarity with the ups and downs of Israel–their hopes and failures, God’s promises and the Chosen People’s anticipation–gives us a greater appreciation of God’s great gift of His own Son at Christmas.

As a gift to you, we wanted to make a PDF of Sr. Ave Maria’s ornaments available to any families or individuals who are interested in adopting this custom. You can print your own copies to make your own ornaments with the matching name or Antiphon on its reverse side. If you are able, you may give a $5 contribution to help us make more resources like this available in the future. To download the instructions and Scripture passages that correspond to these ornaments, click here.

When I made these with my students, we printed these using a good color copier and color printer paper (you can take these to a print shop for good results). I purchased these wooden ornaments in bulk and painted them with metallic gold spray paint (available at craft and hardware stores). Craft paint also works, but the spray paint had an even finish and was much faster.

Using a foam brush, we applied a thin layer of Mod Podge to one side and attached the image to the ornament. To avoid bubbles, you will want to smooth out the paper. We repeated the same process on the other side with the matching name or description.

When these dried, we put a thin layer of Mod Podge over the pictures, one side at a time. Note: this is a craft that is best done by 9 year olds and up, although our young students were able to do it (and had a great time doing so) with their parents’ help. If a child is doing this project, you may want to cover the workspace with a plastic bag or disposable table cloth and keep a damp rag nearby.

Alternatively, while the PDF isn’t formatted to be printed double-sided, you could print them on cardstock, match up the two sides, and laminate them for sturdiness. You can then hang them with ribbon, yarn, or a string.

We have heard that families have different ways of creating their Jesse Trees. Some arrange a fallen tree branch in a pot with rocks or sand, covered with a cloth. Others hang them from the Christmas tree before Christmas decorations go up. They can also be hung from a garland on a fireplace mantel or stair railing so that it becomes a timeline of Salvation History.

We hope you get as much joy out of these miniature glimpses of Salvation History as we have! We pray for you and your families daily as you spiritually prepare for the coming birth of Our Lord!