One thing I learned during my first holiday season as a blogger is that I really need to start posting ideas for gifts and traditions a bit earlier in the fall. After all, some things require a bit of planning and preparation! Today’s post is about how to organize a Jesse Advent Tree ornament exchange. And if you don’t have time for an ornament exchange, I found some beautiful already made Jesse Tree ornament sets that you will love!
To be honest, I had no idea what a Jesse tree was when my sweet friend, Jenny, emailed me a few years ago asking if I wanted to take part in a Jesse Tree Ornament Swap. But I soon learned that a Jesse Tree is like a family tree in that it connects the major events and people in the Old Testament to the birth of Jesus. It’s based on the verse of Isaiah that says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Jesse was the father of King David, from whom Jesus is descended.)
Jesse Trees have been around in different forms for centuries, but in recent years they have been very popular during the Advent season. With an Advent Jesse Tree, there are 25 ornaments, each being a symbol that represents a different Bible story (which is recapped in a devotional book you can read each night). For example, day one is about creation and the corresponding ornament has a symbol of Earth.
For children, it’s a wonderful, visual way to learn how the arrival (or “advent”) of baby Jesus at Christmas was always part of God’s plan of redemption. With the corresponding Scripture reading, the Jesse Tree shows children that all those Sunday School Bible stories they learn about are not random and isolated, but all actually point toward that baby in the manger. My husband and I get so much out of it, too. (Not to digress, but each year we do this advent tree I can’t help but think of how Tim Keller says that Jesus is the true and better Moses, the true and better Noah, the true and better David, and so and so on…).
The “tree” on which to hang the Jesse Tree ornaments can be branches from outside arranged in a vase. Or you can order a wooden tree or make your own felt tree. Last year, I used a live potted Christmas tree!
There are many different sites that show you how to make your own Jesse tree ornaments. (I have several linked on my Pinterest page.) Or you can buy a set of Jesse tree ornaments. (See bottom of post for a slideshow of my favorites).
But I could not find a good post out there on how to organize an Advent Jesse Tree Ornament Exchange, which is what I did a few years ago. It’s nice because you make 25 of the same ornament instead of 25 different ones (which is a lot more time consuming!). So I emailed my sweet friend, Jenny, who organized the event and she told me exactly what she did. And, good news, she is even letting me share her exact emails to save y’all time if you want to organize one!
How to organize a Jesse Tree Ornament Exchange:
1.Sometime in October, send out an inquiry email to 25 friends who might want to take part. (See sample email you can copy here). Give people a 4-5 days to give you a firm answer. Keep emailing until you get 25 friends to commit. (Tip: don’t ask people known to be a bit flaky; this takes commitment!).
2. When you have 25 committed friends, email out detailed instructions. (See sample email here). Each participant is assigned a day/symbol and makes 25 of the same ornament with that symbol. To simplify things, Jenny bought all the supplies:
- 25 – 3×3 squares for everyone to decorate. (So 625 total, although you might want to order extra for mess-ups). They also have these squares at Michaels.
- 25 – Advent books (We used this one, but more linked at the bottom).
- 25 – Plastic shoe boxes which she labels with each family’s name.
Ask participants to pick up 25 wooden squares on the organizer’s porch and to leave (or paypal) money to cover all the costs. (This was a few years ago so will need to calcuate your own cost per person!). Give participants a few weeks to decorate their squares – it can be a family activity as well. (Again, see email for her instructions on how.)
3. Before Thanksgiving, the organizer hosts (or finds someone to host!) the Ornament Exchange party. Jenny had it on a weeknight after dinner with dessert, wine, and hot chocolate! Each participant brought the ornaments they made (or dropped them off beforehand if they couldn’t attend). We received our plastic shoe box (that had this Advent book in it) and went around and picked up one ornament from each pile. It was so much fun to hang with friends, meet new friends, and see everyone’s creations!
That’s it! A treasured Advent tradition to do throughout your children’s childhood!
Now, I know what some of y’all are thinking: you don’t have time for this! I understand! That’s why I found several Jesse Tree ornament sets you can buy – some are kits and some are already made for you. There is also a simple set kids can color in each day – it’s really whatever works best for your family. Honestly, I don’t let our calendar be something we stress about if we miss a day or two. Traditions are supposed to be fun and enjoyable, not something to fret over!
And as I said before, Jenny gave us this book to use as a devotional. It’s made for children and adults. But Ann Voskamp also has one – although I have not read it – and I have seen that some people use the Children’s Storybook Bible. (I have a sample reading schedule linked on my Pinterest page). Update: Heather, a reader from Dallas, said she ordered the books/devotionals from this Jesse Tree site and said the devotionals were child-friendly. She said that they also have how-to and will help you organize your swap if needed.
A few things suggestions:
- I wish we had each put our names on the back of the ornaments we made. I can’t remember who made each one and I would love to know! It would be so special to remember that family in our prayers each night.
- We all had a hard time figuring out the easiest way to drill a hole (for the ribbon) that wouldn’t break the wooden square. I think a little Dremmel ended up being the best way. Update: Heather said she ordered wooden circles from this etsy shop and the owner pre-drilled holes in them!
Have you done a Jesse Tree ornament exchange? Share any tips below. And thank you to my friend, Jenny, for letting me share her emails and ideas!
Want to organize one? Share this post on Facebook and gauge the interest from your local friends!