Jesse Tree: Advent custom traces geneology of Jesus

December 6, 2011

HOUSTON — While they still don’t receive the recognition of well-known traditions like the Advent calendar, Jesse Trees are very much taking root in parishes and households in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. 

In November, Christ the Redeemer Church hosted a community workshop on how to properly construct a Jesse Tree. At homes, families comb the Internet for details about decorating their own Jesse Tree. Interest in this custom has certainly blossomed in recent years, particularly with eager-to-craft children — but the Jesse Tree is no mere modern sensation.

The Jesse Tree originated in the Middle Ages and comes from the lines in Scripture: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” (Isaiah 11:1). Jesse was the father of King David and the Bible tells us that Jesus will be born “of the house of David.” By going back to David’s father, “the Jesse Tree can be thought of as Jesus’ family tree,” said Mary Wright, the director of Children’s Formation at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Spring.

With this thought in mind, many Jesse Trees actually have symbols representing prominent Biblical figures all the way back to Adam. Each ornament is a symbol of the person it represents — such as an apple for Adam, a tree stump for Jesse, a carpenter’s square for Joseph and a cross for Jesus. Creative liberties in selecting the symbol and how each will be represented are regularly encouraged.
Every year, faith formation students at St. Ignatius Loyola decorate ornaments for a Jesse Tree. Wright finds new ways – and places – to show off the children’s handiwork. 

“This Advent custom is not as widely known as others such as the Advent wreath, so we display the tree with ornaments and an explanation of each ornament in our Education Building for students and parents to see,” Wright said. 

At one time, the parish’s Jesse Tree was located in the church’s narthex. This year, 90 fifth grade students at St. Ignatius Loyola will be decorating copies of 20 different paper ornaments.
“This is a wonderful way for our children and parishioners to learn more about the Bible and our rich heritage,” Wright said. †

Each Jesse Tree ornament is typically a handmade symbol or drawing that represents one of the major stories of the Old Testament, along with a brief verse of Scripture from that story. The following are a few examples for consideration:

The Sun: Just as the natural sun gives light and life to all upon whom its rays fall so Christ, the Rising Dawn, dispels darkness and brings eternal life and light. 

The Tablets of the Law: The Law of Moses as symbolized in the tablets which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai was fulfilled in Christ Who brings a law of love.

The Key of David: The key is the emblem of authority and power. Christ is the Key of the House of David Who opens to us the full meaning of the scriptural prophecies, and reopens for all mankind the gate of Heaven. 

Bethlehem: Seven hundred years before Christ’s birth, Micheas prophesied that the Savior would be born in the town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread,” was appropriately designated as the birthplace of Christ, the Bread from Heaven. 

The Root of Jesse: The flower which springs up from the root of Jesse is another figure of Christ. Isaiah prophesied that the Savior would be born from the root of Jesse, that He would sit upon the throne of David, and in Christ this prophecy is fulfilled. 

The Star of David: The six-pointed star is the emblem of the Royal House of David even to this day. Christ Who is born of the House of David, can truly claim this emblem as His own. 

Jacob’s Ladder: In a vision, Jacob saw a ladder reaching from heaven to earth, with angels descending and ascending. Christ, the Incarnate God, is the Ladder reuniting earth to heaven, mankind to God. 

Jonah in the Whale: As Jonah remained in the whale three days, so Christ remained three days in the earth after His death. 

The Temple: The Temple was God’s dwelling place among the Jews of the Old Testament. His new Presence is within us. 

The Crown and Sceptre: The crown and sceptre signify Christ’s universal kingship. As we sing in the fifth O Antiphon, Christ is not only the King of the Jewish nation, but the “Desired One of all,” the cornerstone which unites both Jew and Gentile.

The Sword of Judith: Judith of the Old Testament, who killed with a sword the leader of the Assyrian army, saved the Israelite nation. She prefigured Mary whose “Fiat” brought salvation to all mankind. 

The Burning Bush: God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, which burned but was not consumed, a symbol of the Virgin Birth of Christ.

Noah’s Ark: Noah preserved the natural life of all within the Ark; Christ brings supernatural life to mankind and preserves that life within His Mystical Body the Church. 

The Ark of the Covenant: We address Mary as the Ark of the Covenant because she, like the Ark of the Old Testament, contained the most precious Gift of the New Law. 

The Altar of Holocaust: Sacrifice was offered daily on the Jewish altar of holocaust — a type of the Christian altar and the daily sacrifice of the Mass. 

The Apple: “O Happy Fault, whereby we have merited so great a Redeemer.” 

The Paschal Lamb: At the yearly Pasch, the Jews sacrificed a new, unblemished lamb in thanksgiving for all that God had done for them and as an atonement offering for all their sins. This sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb was fulfilled in Christ, the “Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.”

The Pillar of Fire: In the Old Testament, God appeared in a pillar of fire to lead His people through the desert, as Christ leads us through the desert of life. 

Manna: The manna which the Jews ate in the desert for 40 years was a symbol of Christ, the true Bread which descended from heaven.


Dec. 1 Creation: Gen. 1:1-31; 2:1-4 Symbols: sun, moon, stars, animals, earth 

Dec. 2 Adam and Eve: Gen. 2:7-9, 18-24 Symbols: tree, man, woman 

Dec. 3 Fall of Man: Gen. 3:1-7 and 23-24 Symbols: tree, serpent, apple with bite 

Dec. 4 Noah: Gen. 6:5-8, 13-22; 7:17, 23, 24; 8:1, 6-22 Symbols: ark, animals, dove, rainbow 

Dec. 5 Abraham: Gen. 12:1-3 Symbols: torch, sword, mountain 

Dec. 6 Isaac: Gen. 22:1-14 Symbols: bundle of wood, altar, ram in bush 

Dec. 7 Jacob: Gen. 25:1-34; 28:10-15 Symbols: kettle, ladder 

Dec. 8 Joseph: Gen. 37:23-28; 45:3-15 Symbols: bucket, well, silver coins, tunic 

Dec. 9 Moses: Ex. 2:1-10 Symbols: baby in basket, river and rushes 

Dec. 10 Samuel: 1 Sam. 3:1-18 Symbols: lamp, temple 

Dec. 11 Jesse: 1 Sam. 16:1-13 Symbols: crimson robe, shepherd’s staff 

Dec. 12 David: 1 Sam. 17:12-51 Symbols: slingshot, 6-pointed star 

Dec. 13 Solomon: 1 Kings 3:5-14, 16-28 Symbols: scales of justice, temple, two babies and sword 

Dec. 14 Joseph: Matt. 1:18-25 Symbols: hammer, saw, chisel, angle

Dec. 15 Mary