When I was young, holiday time meant listening to stories about family, about my grandpa who was a firefighter, his brothers who were bakers, my great aunts who ran the Michael Reese Women’s Guild Thrift Shop, or my dad’s accordion lessons. I think storytelling is what many of us do when we gather with family and friends. Through storytelling, we remember “the good old days”, telling and retelling stories about the adventures we’ve had, laughing and crying about the events of our history. We remember our roots, the people who came before us, those people who played a part in the where and why of who we are today and how we got here.
I went to Catholic grade school on the south side of the great City of Chicago, and we had many Advent traditions in our classrooms. We would light the Advent wreath candles and singing Christmas hymns. My favorite Advent tradition was making a Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree tradition is an Advent journey through the stories of Jesus family, from Adam to Mary. It is rooted in scripture and prophecy from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
To make a Jesse Tree, we used a weighted bucket or vase to hold a few large branches in the form of a tree. On that tree, would hang one ornament each day that symbolizes one of the stories of Jesus family, also known as Salvation History. As we listen to those stories from scripture, about the days of Creation, Adam and Eve, the rainbow after the great flood, David’s many-colored coat, and on and on, we would laugh and cry as we remembered the stories of God’s family.
Those were our stories, too. We knew that we belonged to the stories of the Exodus of God’s Chosen People, Jonah and the Whale, the prediction of the Messiah and the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. We knew that we were members of Jesus’ family, and we remembered our roots.
I still love the Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree. My family has paper ornaments that my children drew and colored many years ago. There are ornament kits out there that you can buy online or at your local religious goods store. I encourage you to make a Jesse Tree this Advent. The readings can easily be found online. This resource is one of my favorites.
My family has not made a Jesse Tree every Advent. More often in recent years, I find that making a Jesse Tree, reading the stories of Jesus’ family, how God created everything out of nothing, chose us to be his family and sent his Son to become one with us on this human journey, my salvation history is just what I need to prepare for the birth of the Baby Jesus and truly enter into the spirit of Christmas.
May your Advent journey be blessed, and your Christmas be filled with joy.