The Jesse Tree: a family-oriented way to focus on the true meaning of Christmas

bare tree with branches
Photo by Kevin Day

I‘ve wanted to do a Jesse Tree for Christmas for the past few years, but I’ve never actually done it for one main reason – I haven’t planned far enough in advance.  No longer.

Think of a Jesse Tree as a sort of advent calendar, except that in addition to a countdown to Christmas, you go through a family devotion in the Bible, starting with creation and ending with Jesus’ birthday.  It’s geared towards the kids, so the devotional times are short, easy, and visual.

12 christmas projectsI know not all of you are Christians, but for those of you that are, you might want to consider starting this tradition with your family.  All it takes is a little planning and your crafty hat.

The Jesse Tree Process

Every evening for about four weeks until Christmas, the family reads through a devotional, talks about the lesson, and hangs the appropriate ornament on the Jesse Tree.  Each lesson walks chronologically through the Bible, highlighting historical moments that lead to the birth of Jesus.

I’ve seen some Jesse Tree devotionals with 25 days, starting with December 1, and I’ve seen some that have 29 – four full weeks plus Christmas Day.

There are a few devotionals you can find online, but there aren’t a lot.  This year, if I have time, I hope to write our own, probably using the Scripture outline found here.  I like the idea of doing 29 days, to coincide with the full celebration of Advent.

How to Make a Jesse Tree

You can make the tree as ornate or as simple as you like.  Several ideas I’ve seen are:

  • a simple tabletop Christmas tree
  • a tree cut out of butcher paper and taped to the wall
  • a bare twig with lots of branches, planted in a pot

Because we’re traveling for Christmas this year, I think I’ll find an inexpensive tabletop tree for now – but when we celebrate Christmas at home next year, I’d like to find a beautifully simple branch and plant it in a pot.

Making the Ornaments

world christmas ornament
Photo by Karly B

Again, these can be simple or elaborate.  Some ideas:

  • draw them on paper, punch a hole, and run them through with some ribbon
  • print them online and do the same thing
  • sew them with felt
  • craft them with store-bought ornaments
  • you can even buy a Jesse Tree kit

I remember Shannon creating hers out of inexpensive ornaments from Hobby Lobby – I think I’ll do the same.  I prefer a simpler, classic-yet-modern aesthetic that I haven’t yet found online.

So this is my Christmas project for the week
– hitting up Hobby Lobby, Garden Ridge, and other type stores for ornaments, looking for an inexpensive tree, and drafting up a simple devotional for our family, gearing it towards our preschool-age children.

Do you have a Jesse Tree with your family?  How do you do it?  If not, what are some of your family traditions to count down to Christmas Day?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. What a great idea! I’ve been trying to think of ways to make Christmas less about the material and more about the spiritual.

    I saw the Advent Conspiracy video and it really made me want to change the way we celebrate the holidays. Changing tradition is hard, though. This is a great start. Thanks!

  2. Are you by chance planning to share your devotional after you complete it? My daughter is only 5 months this Christmas so we’re planning to use this year to plan and hunt for on sale ornaments after Christmas, etc. so we’ll be ready for next year!

    emily’s last blog post…oatmeal alternative

    • Possibly – it depends on when I get it done – hopefully it’ll be done this week. To be honest, I might charge a very small amount for it, depending on how long it takes me to write it, edit it, and design it. It would be very affordable, of course.

  3. We haven’t had a Jesse tree in the past, but plan to do one this year. Thanks for the timely reminder!

    Christi’s last blog post…and the winner is…

  4. I’ve been introduced to the Jesse Tree through your blog posts – and I would like make this part of our Christmas tradition!

    But I need to plan carefully – if I make this into too big of a project I’m likely to get overwelmed and give up!! Thanks for helping us get started on this now – well before the typical ‘Christmas rush.’

  5. I love this meaningful tradition and hope to start it this year with the fam!

    Julie’s last blog post…Just Cast My Vote!

  6. We have no meaningful traditions. Unless you count family time as meaningful.

    Half Assed Kitchen’s last blog post…Spaghetti squash with parmesan

  7. This has gotten me to want to know more. I will have to do a little reading up on it. It sounds like a great thing to start with my family.
    Thank you for sharing.

  8. What a great way to celebrate the Christmas season with little ones. Thanks for sharing this idea.

  9. thanks for the info…we do an advent countdown but I have always wanted to add more of the Jesus story with the practice. My sister made us a set of advent ornaments last year. So I think this year we will put up our regular tree with all the regular ornaments on Nov. 30. Then starting on Dec. 1 we will read a devotion and add an advent ornament each day until Dec, 25. I look forward to seeing your devotion ideas.

    junebug69’s last blog post…Tracking

  10. I put our Jesse Tree ornaments and devotions online in a separate blog, including selections from Children’s Bibles for very young children. I think the great thing about a Jesse Tree is that you can tailor the readings to whatever age your children are, and everyone still gets a lot out of it.

    Feel free to check out our Jesse Tree blog:

    Catherine’s last blog post…Shop Your Pantry

  11. We started our Jesse Tree last year and our almost 2 year old loved it! I also made them as a gift for my nieces and nephews. I used the simple devotions found at and put them into a book and either made ornaments or scoured Hobby Lobby, World Market (for the elusive globe ornament!) and JoAnn’s. It was a lot of effort, but so well worth it to help all of us remember why we celebrate.

    kate’s last blog post…Scarecrow Cookies

  12. We started using the Jesse Tree a couple of years ago when I first saw it on Shannon’s site. We gather willow branches and use them for the tree. It’s really beautiful. I thought you might like to see a picture of it. Scroll down a bit.

    My Jesse Tree

    Org Junkie’s last blog post…Storage Star – Taking dollar store baskets to the next level!

  13. We have done this some years; some years we don’t get it planned in time.

    You might check your last paragraph- you are going to buy an expensive tree? 🙂

    Amy Jones’s last blog post…Holiday traditions

  14. Love this idea. Where have I been that I’m just now hearing of this?

    What if you put together the lessons and the process of making the tree and gave it to a friend with kids? Could be a great gift.

  15. I’ve never heard of a Jesse tree, but I definitely love the idea of walking kids from creation to the birth of Christ in preparation for Christmas.
    Check out this link for an awesome kids book written in exactly this format (free ebook available):

    Shilo’s last blog post…Success!!

  16. I don’t like artificial Christmas trees, and I always feel wrong about buying a young Christmas tree just to throw it away in a couple of weeks. I would love to find a potted tree so that I’d be able to plant it back (in my granny’s garden) after Christmas is over…

    Lina’s last blog post…Skin Care Comes in Fabric

  17. I have never ever heard of this, but I think it sounds like an enriching and involving idea. Anything that keeps our children active and mindful is a good thing in my eyes.

  18. Thank for sharing. Wow all these ideas are great!
    I am soooo glad I am starting my Christmas planning on time – Thanks to Simple Mom and Marcia Ramsland (simplify your holidays book).

    Karisa’s last blog post…Perspective: from a Daughter and Wife – Part 2

  19. I have an infant right now, but this is an idea to file for later when she’s old enough to sit still for a devotional! We were just talking a couple of days ago about starting Christmas traditions with her…

    Mandie’s last blog post…It’s a Trick for us.

  20. Love this idea! I’m glad you mentioned it now too while there is still time to prepare! Thanks , love it!


    melissa @ the inspired room’s last blog post…20 Little Attitudes Of Gratitude

  21. I absolutely LOVE this idea – thank you SO much for sharing it! I have a three year old and one year, so I think I will write my own with their sweet little selves in mind. Thank you again!!!

  22. Thanks for reminding me of this! I’ve always wanted to do one, and I would never have remembered until too late! This is a great tradition to begin with our young children. Thanks!

  23. I grew up in a “mixed” household; one Jewish parent one Presbyterian parent. The title of this post reminded me of our Hanukkah bush – LOL. It was a crazy-looking thing made out of branches covered with tin foil. But we loved it . . . a fond memory.

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post…Only Children: Lucky or Lonely?

  24. Yes, I second the request to share your devotional (for a price!!) with us if you’d like. I think this is a great idea to reinforce the big picture of God’s love for us in little hearts (and big ones). Thanks!

  25. I use a similar idea for family devotionals during the month of December–each day we read a scripture that prophecies of the birth of Christ. The scripture are printed out on gift tags and decorated with a few simple holiday scriptures and a ribbon attached. Then we hang the tags up as we go. It is really fulfilling to see how many prophecies of the Savior’s birth there are throughout the scriptures.

    Rebecca’s last blog post…Fun with Halloween Scriptures

  26. Simple Mom- thanks for this great idea. I first read about it on your 12 weeks to Christmas blog and got started right away. I have about 10 friends who are doing this as well and I’m hoping to share this idea with our church of 10,000! We are starting a series called “Simple Christmas” next week and it’s focused on the ideas of Worship More, Spend Less, Give More. This idea fits perfectly.

    My husband is unemployed right now and we were only going to do gifts for the kids, but now I’m making Jesse Trees for each of our families. I really enjoy reading your blog. I’ve adapted your “Daily Docket” into my own “Geek Week” and have finally made myself a doable cleaning schedule. Many thanks to you for the motivation to do great things for my family.

    Erin’s last blog post…I don’t have the time/money to do that.

  27. I lived with my “spiritual mom” and her family did a Jesse Tree tradition. Once, shortly before I moved out, she took the time to lend me her paper ornaments and we made my own copy for me to take. Now, I use the ornaments on my live ficus tree (it’s an eco-friendly christmas tree at Christmas time) and we keep them up til Easter, since they’re appropriate for both holidays. (besides, they’re pretty, so I like looking at them!) I can’t wait til my boys are old enough to learn their meaning.

    Misty’s last blog post…Try try again….

  28. We made the Jesse tree with my daughter last year. We decided to do all the ornaments out of felt and just cut them into the symbol/picture for each lesson. No sewing, no sweat. And very cheap too. Someday I hope to remake the ornaments out of something like self-hardening clay and do it as a family. But for my two year old daughter, felt is perfect.

  29. I’ve done an Advent calendar before, but this Jesse Tree project sounds wonderful! Thank you!

    Sarah H.’s last blog post…Organize My Wardrobe: Savvy Shopping

  30. I first heard about the Jesse Tree last year when it was too late to do anything about. But Im on it this year! Sort of. Im having a craft night with some girlfriends next weekend and we are making advent trees. The tree is a felt wall hanging with little pockets underneath for ornament storage. We are going to make the ornaments out of sculpey or felt. I am planning on doing my tree/ornaments for our Jesse Tree. Im going to try and have the devotionals part printed out (thanks to everyone else for sharing their ideas too) and have those available on craft night as well.

  31. I bought a book years ago which is now out of print. It gave holiday histories on many holidays and projects to do for each one. She wrote it in one book then wrote in in several different individual books of one holiday each. Christmas has a beautiful felt banner you make and add a piece each devotional. It includes beautiful devotionals, going through the history of Christ — even before His life. I love it!

    Tiffany’s last blog post…Happy National Chocolate Day!

  32. I think this is a beautiful idea. My son is grown and gone so it is too late for me to implement it but I have e-mailed your article to my sister, who has two young children. Maybe I can use it in the future for grandchildren!

    Mary@SimplyForties’s last blog post…Long Distance Relationships

  33. My personal opinion is that if you use a regular Christmas tree you’re taking something that has a pagan background and turning it into something that every time your children look at it they will see a totally different meaning and different idea than just a tree where the presents go. If the Jesse tree is all they grow up with, then every time they look at a Christmas tree anywhere, they’ll think of the Jesse tree and the devotionals you’ve been reading and it will be reinforced. If you do a regular branch, it’s very nice but it has no reinforcement outside of home. Anyway, that’s just my own idea. I think it’s a wonderful idea. When I first read of it this year through your site I was so excited. But alas and alack I have no children yet, so I’ll have to wait a year or two to do anything really fun.

  34. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea! My son will be 14 months this Christmas and it is NEVER too early to instill in our children that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” We so easily get caught up in the gifts and parties, forgeting why this time of year is so special! Thanks for yet another fabulous tip – keep ’em coming!

    Candice’s last blog post…{Happy First Birthday Sweet Baby Boy}

  35. Thanks for explaining what it is, this is actually the first year I have ever heard of one. Jack is 13 months old so we might wait another year or so.

    Everyday Mom’s last blog post…To Immunize or not to Immunize

  36. our new Advent tradition is an advent calendar which my mom purchased for us last year. i haven’t actually seen it yet – it should arrive around the start of December along with my parents for a visit! anyway, it is a calendar that, for each day, has a part of the traditional stable scene. for now, we plan to use that with scripture each night after dinner.

    i love the Jesse Tree idea, and i think when our son is a little older we may start doing that with him.

    Krista’s last blog post…Infertility Awareness Week

  37. just found your blog. i have never heard of the jesse tree concept, what a great idea to bring more meaning to the holidays.

  38. I love all the excitement about Jesse Trees! Since you asked for photos….

    Here’s our homemade Jesse Tree:

    And here are the ornaments I made for our tree when the kids were little:

    And finally, here’s an advent wreath my kids and I made:

    God bless you all!

    Ouiz’s last blog post…You didn’t tell me you were going to KILL it!

  39. We don’t have kids yet, but I’d like to see how my husband feels about doing a Jesse tree now, anyway… make it a family tradition from the start. We’ve been talking about buying a mini-fruit tree for months (here where we live there’s a 2-foot tall tree that bears edible tiny citrus fruits… during some months everyone seems to be selling them potted, perfect for a table or stand in our apartment!), and I think it’d be neat to have a year-round tree that both represents life and bearing fruit… Noel Piper talks about this working as both an “Advent” and later a “Lent” tree in her “Treasuring God in our Traditions” book I just finished reading:

    All great ideas.

    Lori Ann’s last blog post…Packing Light Tips

  40. Although we’re not Christian, we still celebrate Christmas because our families do. I like the idea of a Jesse Tree, but would love to change the idea from a celebration of Christ to a celebration of what my family and those we know and love can, and have been, doing to make the world a better place. I’m thinking of finding lessons of charity, forgiveness, sharing, etc. from our community and turning each into a short lesson (similar to a devotion but without the spiritual angle) that are easy for my little ones to understand… the baby won’t get it yet, but I think it’s a wonderful way to introduce giving, sharing with those less fortunate, etc. to my four-year-old. After reading your post, I’m excited to get started on my own non-Christian version of a Jesse Tree today!

  41. I agree it is so important to know the “true meaning” of christmas. Google “origins of christmas” you might be surprise to find a pagan origin is really at the bottom of this.

    Past years many people are realizing that christmas is not and has not do have anything to do with Jesus’ birthday. So a question is why do people do this to a person who gave his life for us?

    I know it isnt a popular opinion and do not want to offend anyone and I am sorry if I have.

    • Christmas has everything to do whith the birth of Christ. Christmas its self means the ‘mass of Christ’, or the mission of Christ. Christmas is a time to remember the love of God in an effort to save mankind sent his only Son to Earth with a choice to save us. While I do not believe the actual day of Christ’s birth was December 25 is irrevelent, it is a day to set aside and remember that we were saved from ourselves by the choice of someone who believed in us even though He knew so many of us would not believe in Him.

  42. We started our Jesse tree tradition last year. When my dear friend Bethany invited our bible study group to participate in making a Jesse tree. There were 10 of us who participated. Since you need 25 ornaments we each made 2 or 3 different ornaments and then we made 10 of that ornament. For example I made the globe, Jacob’s latter, doorframe w/ blood (for the passover), and a scallop shell (for John the Baptist). It was so special to have handmade ornaments made by people we know. It was a lot cheaper buying material to make 10 of 1 thing rather than purchasing 25 different ornaments. I think I spent a grand total of $15 dollars. Another idea some of the ladies who had older children had was to give a Jesse tree as a wedding present!

  43. Are you still looking for pictures of Jesse Trees?

    Here is the handmade one we use with our devotions:

    And these are the handmade ornaments on our tree:

    Ouiz’s last blog post…A little All Hallow’s Eve humor

  44. I grew up with a Jesse Tree and my husband and I have always done one with our own children.

    In fact, you can see the Jesse Tree that I grew up with and helped to make here:

    (I think that I did the Ark at the bottom)

    My mother wrote the article and compiled the directions more than 10 years ago.

    My fondest memories of Christmas are of gathering together at bedtime and taking turns (there are 6 children) reading aloud and hanging the ornament on the tree. Every year we rediscovered the amazing adventure that is the story of Christ and Christianity. We never read just the alotted reading for that day. We always wanted to know more. To know the next part of the story. It helped to make Jesus into a real person with a family and family stories just like we had.

    I think that they best part of our Jesse Tree was that we made it ourselves and that every year it was a reminder that we are a family. It is beautiful in its imperfections. Just like us.

  45. There are a few free downloadable resources for Jesse Tree devotions that I’ve found as part of my attempt to compile Advent Resources for a team blog I am part of. I don’t have children myself, so can’t say I’ve personally used any of these, but several look quite good. Here are the links:

    These first two links are from the Reformed Church in America and are fairly simple, geared for children, and include a picture with each devotional. (There are also downloadable Jesse Tree Ornament patterns at the same site)

    and the same material in SPANISH:

    Much more detailed Jesse Tree devotionals geared for older kids, or even adults:


    A home-schooling group has started putting together devotions as part of a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. The devotionals for Days 1 – 15 are here:

    You can find all these links and more at a compilation I’ve put together of Jesse Tree resources. I would really welcome feedback as to what you all find helpful, or if there are other resources I’ve missed.

    A blessed Advent to you all.
    Karen B., Lent & Beyond blog

    Karen B.´s last blog post…Creative Advent Calendars

  46. A well-written post, as always. I featured it in today’s Simple Makes post, “Best Advent Links: Preparing for Christmas.” See it at Thanks!

    Lori Ann´s last blog post…Best Advent Links: Preparing for Christmas

  47. Oh, how I love your blog. We have always tried to focus our attention on Christ during Christmas, but the materialism still seems to hold too significant a place during the holidays. Now that we have a three year old and another one on the way, I see how easy it is to get lost in Santa Claus. No longer. This is a great daily exercise to keep all our focus on the right place – the birth of Christ. I’m going out in my backyard to find an old craggy branch this afternoon. Thank you for your inspiration. 🙂

  48. .: I was fascinated and thrilled with your Jesse tree~~ Owhh, it is a very beautiful and spiritual idea. Thank you for sharing this. (^v^) :.
    .-= Decors´s last blog ..Birds tries to hang Beaded Garland to decorate our Christmas tree?? =-.

  49. Jodi Jansen says:

    I love the Jesse Tree. A package of shrinky dink paper from Michaels and a box of pencil crayons has always been our favourite means of creating ornaments for our Jesse Tree. Just draw a symbol or picture of the main event or character from the reading… colour it up (outline with a permanent black marker) and bake it into an ornament.

  50. Check out for an incredible Jesse Tree devotional (includes ornament printouts)

  51. We did the Jesse tree for several years while our youngest son was growing up (he’s now in college). I purchased a book that had both children’s and adults’ devotionals. I used an inexpensive table top Christmas tree. The ornaments were a combination of things we had around the house to homemade to store bought. It really kept the true meaning of Christmas in the forefront of our thoughts rather than getting caught up in all the worldly trappings. I hope that when my son has children, he will continue this wonderful tradition.

  52. This a very nice post. Having this kind of idea during Christmas is such a wonderful tradition. I’m also planning to create my own Jesse tree Mainstay Ministries in the future. I’m looking forward for your next post.

  53. Hi! I make Jesse Tree Ornaments for Advent. Here’s the link to my Etsy shop:

    Custom orders are welcome. I currently have a Christmas special on shipping for Jesse Tree Ornaments – $5 Worldwide!

    Happy counting down to Jesus’ birthday!

    Homemaker Honey
    deborah@homemakerhoney . com

  54. we have been very blessed by doing Jesse Tree. I get excited thinking of the kids having a great grasp of God’s goodness to His people throughout their existence, despite their success or failure. God is faithful and these devo’s certainly put that on display; especially with the conclusion of the birth of Jesus. I didn’t want such a huge project that it was more work than was special, so we bought a tree kit the first year and grandparents get them store bought ones to replace the paper ones each year. The kids look forward to getting their new ones each year. We just found a reading plan and are sticking to it to make life easier. I know there are a lot out there, but the one we have is great!

  55. A Jesse Tree is a beautiful way for your family to celebrate the birth of our Savior. I make a set of 27 ornaments with symbols from creation to Christ, including important people, places, and prophecies in Jesus’ life.

  56. I love it when I go to find something on the internet and the answer comes back from someone I know personally and respect. Thanks girl!

  57. We have started this tradition in our home this season. I am beyond excited about it. Because I am not crafty I chose to look for an affordable alternative to making the ornaments and I was pleased with what I found. On I found hand painted wooden ornaments and a wooden tree for less than $40. This site also has the Stations of the Cross ornaments that can be used during the Passion Week.

    Thanks for your post. I have used your explanation of the Jesse Tree to explain this tradition to friends and family.

    Blessings to you this Advent Season!

  58. Found your site scouring the web for Jesse Tree ideas… I wanted to add that we kept the largest bough/branch/whatever we cut from the bottom of our Christmas tree and will be using it as our ‘tree’ to hang our Advent ornaments, which we are crafting daily from felt. =)

  59. Hi! Thanks for posting lots of wonderful ideas. I had made all my ornaments, and on most, I cited the day and Scripture citations. I got kind of lazy at the end, and stopped writing in the Scripture citations. Now, the link to the outline isnt working. Would you know where I might find the same Scripture citations posted online? I appreciate your help!

  60. What is Tsh short for or is that your real name?

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