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Jesse trees help define Advent

Marianna Bartholomew

Photo Taken by Marianna Bartholomew
At an Opus Dei woman’s night of reflection at a parish west of Chicago, the priest took a good, long time counseling each penitent. The line stretched along the back of the church and out into the narthex. One woman toward the end was around 30 years old and tall, with abundant, curly dark hair. Her face was calm, but something about the way she stood had me whispering to her, asking if everything was ok. That’s how I found out she had just had back surgery and been released from the hospital. Her first time out, she had headed to Confession.

Honestly? At the time, all I could think was that my first destination after being cooped up from surgery probably would not be a Confessional line.

The woman admitted she was in pain, and finally went to lie down on a long bench against the wall. I called her over when her time for Confession came.

Several days later, a friend from a town nearly half an hour away told me about a new lady from church who was moving with her husband from an apartment into a little home. The woman had several children, and was in back pain from a recent surgery. My friend and the lady were going to start a special Jesse Tree project. I had heard of Jesse Trees, but wondered why these two were thinking of Christmas, months out of season.

I asked if I could crash their plans and arrived at the first gathering with my three children in tow. Sure enough, our hostess was the lady I had met in the Confession line. Again she was smiling – and in back pain. Our little ones rambled around the basement playing with a dollhouse and Legos while the three moms cut out pink and purple circles – the colors of Advent. We used fabric paints to depict scenes and write verses from Scripture:  For the First Friday of Advent we illustrated Isaac and the Ram, Genesis 22: 1-14. For the second Tuesday, we drew tablets with Roman Numerals for Moses and the Law, Exodus 20:1-17. I loved creating a little felt mission church for the story of Nehemiah the Builder and had to laugh when my camel resembled a dinosaur for the story of Abraham.

It was a new experience, making these Jesse Tree ornaments, which numbered 29: 28 days for Advent, and one for Christmas Day. We averaged just several ornaments each meeting, so this project gave our children many play dates rotating through three homes. Our sessions stretched through the Summer and into the Fall. Our hostess made her set as a gift – I believe, for a couple of newlyweds. Out of simple felt and fabric paint, an amazing heirloom-type gift.

Jesse Tree patterns are easily found for free online and anyone can have fun with this project. Our ornaments are about the diameter of a bagel, but I’ve seen some as small as a quarter. People make them out of every material imaginable: wood, cardboard, construction paper and felt, using markers, crayons or paint. The ornaments hang on Christmas trees, over mantelpieces, on yarn strung around doorways, or from branches stuck into a vase.

And the point of the Jesse Tree? Isaaiah chapter 11, versus 1-2 says:

"But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD."


That image, of the ancestral tree of Jesus that shows his noble birth, has been shown in stained glass windows and in paintings, since ancient times.

In the 1100s, a monk named Hervaeus wrote, "The patriarch Jesse belonged to the royal family, that is why the root of Jesse signifies the lineage of kings. As to the rod, it symbolises Mary as the flower symbolises Jesus Christ.”

Lighting a candle after dinner, gathering the family to sing “O Come Emmanuel,” reading Scripture verses of the day and hanging the corresponding Jesse Tree ornament, is now a beautiful Advent tradition in our home. We hang the ornaments on our tree until Christmas Eve. We attend Mass, then exchange Jesse Tree ornaments for Christmas ornaments, while we enjoy eggnog and cookies.

We’ve done this for the past eight years or so, and I always think back to that first encounter of the woman who gave us the gift of the Jesse Tree. She first gave a strong testimony to me by simply bearing her pain and being patient in a Confessional line.

After welcoming me, a stranger, into her home, she became a good friend. Our little Jesse Tree gatherings became a Bible Study group. Our children were friends for years.

Two years ago, at the start of Advent, she continued her testimony. I received an email from Katherine, that she had sent to people who had either made ornaments with her or received those ornaments: that email went to 18 recipients, all people touched by her little Jesse Tree ministry. She wrote:

“I remember fondly praying, studying, and crafting with you, in our old apartment, at your house, or in our basement of this house. So many years, with great glue shared around many a newspaper covered table!”

She reminded us to take out our Jesse Trees, writing, “I hope your family life is drawn closer to the heart of God due to the love of Jesus, and growing through His Word through this simple devotion. None of us gets it perfectly. We just do as many days as we each can. The goal is to pray with our family, and to spend time together.”

Then she went on to describe other Advent traditions in her family. This lady was chasing around one-year-old twins, caring for a daughter with heart defects that needed massive surgeries, had children ranging up to the teens, and I believe it was right around that time that repeated floods had destroyed her basement. Yet she took time to encourage 18 other people in their Advent journeys.

Katherine’s a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, a great Catholic College, but it’s hidden in her home, surrounded by little ones, laundry and household duties, that she continues to be a powerful lay missionary, giving a testimony that enriches lives.

In her own words:

“Jesus being in our lives as the focus and center is key for every job we have to do.”

May your Advent be blessed.


© Copyright by Marianna Bartholomew 2012, Article first appeared at Finerfields.blogspot.com and is featured as a podcast on the SQPN-affiliated Catholic Vitamins.

Topics: Advent & Christmas , Family

Marianna Bartholomew is winner of six national Catholic Press Association Journalism Awards and Chicago’s 1993 Cardinal’s Communications Award for Professional Excellence. Her articles have appeared in EXTENSION Magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic Digest and in Chicago’s Catholic New World and other diocesan newspapers across the nation. Former Managing Editor of Catholic home mission EXTENSION Magazine, Bartholomew has traveled to and reported on conditions in the poorest, most isolated pockets of our nation, from Louisiana’s Cajun communities and Appalachia’s hollows to Montana’s remote Indian missions. Blessed to be a wife and homeschooling mother of three, she now teaches in a homeschool cooperative, freelance writes from her Chicago area home, and is completing her first novel for young adults. She blogs at finerfields.blogspot.com.

View all articles by Marianna Bartholomew

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Lk 9:57-62

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