This time of year most of us aren’t thinking about the weeds in our garden. But after spending much of the summer battling unwanted vines in our yard, I’ve learned something about the power of long roots. They ground us — pun intended — and connect us to something beyond ourselves.
They were a nuisance in my garden, but in my faith, long roots are a gift from a loving God. They give us something to cling to as we push on through life’s challenges. They anchor us as we bloom.
There’s great value in knowing your roots. And that’s exactly what the Jesse tree offers kids at Advent — the chance to learn about Jesus’ own family history as well as our connection to the familiar stories from the Old Testament.
The Jesse tree is like a family tree of our faith. Its name comes from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” Jesse was the father of King David, from whom Jesus’ family descended.
Kids can decorate a Jesse tree with ornaments that tell stories of the people and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. These stories — about Abraham, Noah and the ark, Samuel, and John the Baptist, among others — can help kids to see that God has always loved us.
Children can start to see the bigger picture of their faith and Jesus’ own connection to this kingly lineage going back to the Old Testament.
The Jesse tree is a simple project that’s ideal for the start of Advent. You need a Bible, some paper, colored pencils or markers, scissors and thread for hanging the finished ornament.
Of course, you also need a tree, but let your imagination guide you. A small artificial tree works, but so does an evergreen branch or two that’s glued or tied to a wooden base. If space is an issue, consider making a paper tree and gluing the ornaments to the paper.
Now, to the ornaments. When it comes to ideas, look to the Bible for inspiration. Read favorite Old Testament stories and think of symbols that illustrate those moments. Perhaps the story of Noah gets an ark, while an apple represents Adam and Eve. Moses can be symbolized by a burning bush or a baby in a basket.
Here is where children can be as imaginative as they want. Use old Christmas cards, pictures from a magazine, have kids make up their own symbol. On the back of each ornament, have kids copy a Bible verse or phrase that describes what they’ve drawn.
I confess I don’t spend as much time as I should reading our Bible. But I made sure that wasn’t the case when working on our Jesse trees. Don’t just rely on your memory to share these stories.
Let kids look them up and read them aloud — it’s a great exercise in helping them to become more familiar with the books of the Bible. Answer any questions — after all, the stories can be confusing. Help kids find parallels in their own lives when reading about Joseph and Mary.
Once kids have finished their ornaments, attach them to the tree with string. It’s a good idea to make an ornament for each of day of Advent. Kids can put one ornament on their tree each day — like an Advent calendar — or fill the whole tree at once.
Ideally, the Jesse tree should be its own space in your home. My kids have kept their Jesse trees in their bedrooms, decorated with their own ornaments. It’s a great way for them to show pride in their handiwork and also express a bit of their faith.
As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, let us take time to remember the history of our faith. If we are all flowers in God’s garden, we can’t forget our roots.
Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.