Adapting the Jesse Tree for Preschoolers

Does your family have any Christmas traditions that turn December into a countdown to Christmas? I grew up with an Advent calendar with presents or sweets, which of course I loved. My sister and I even made Advent calendars for each other into adulthood, starting the year my Mom decided she wanted to be done. I began the same tradition with my kids a couple of years ago but am making a change this year. I am really excited to share it with you!

What’s a Jesse Tree? 

Last year, when it was already too late to change plans, somebody told me about the Jesse Tree. I had never heard of it. In the Jesse Tree tradition, the family opens a wrapped ornament every day with a symbol that relates to a Bible story. The stories journey through the Bible from creation to the birth of Christ, showing the family line of Jesus as well as promises made about Christ’s arrival from ages past. 

After some research, I realized that there are different versions of the Jesse Tree. I found some 30-day and some 25-day options. While most symbols and stories are the same, a few of them differ. So in your preparation phase, make sure your symbols and stories match. 

There are a number of books available to help you tell the story related to each ornament or you could read the story straight from the Bible. The two most popular book choices are…

  • “The Advent Jesse Tree” by Dean Lambert Smith: From reading through Amazon reviews, here is what I can deduct: This book will adequately lead your family in a daily devotional time, full with a song suggestion, memory verse and of course, the explanation of that day’s symbol/ ornament. However, the use of the KJV, lack of pictures, and some of the language (too hard to understand) and content (stories containing violence, possibly too scary for kids) may be less fitting for small children. Of course, you can always edit or paraphrase for your kids as needed.
  • “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas” by Ann Voskamp: This book has beautiful illustrations and stories to go along with the Jesse Tree. Buyers even receive an access code to printable ornaments, making this a one-stop shop. However, some Amazon reviewers said that some of the language is too picturesque for young children. While the illustrations are clearly geared towards our little ones, some of the wording seems to be directed towards adults. Everyone said the wording is beautiful, just not necessarily something little children would understand. 

Jesse Tree for preschoolers

Yes, both books have a critique in common: They are not great for young children. That creates a problem for us. Our kids are 3 and 5 years old. Our 5-year old has a language delay, so both are at preschool level verbally. If we are going to start this family tradition, I want my kids to benefit from what they are hearing, not force them to quietly listen to something that’s way over their heads. 

I have come up with a solution. While we may choose one of the above books in a couple of years, this December we will read from one of our children’s Bibles. We ordered a Jesse Tree ornament kit that comes with a little brochure, explaining how each ornament relates to that day’s Bible story and how it relates to Jesus. The explanations are simple and child-friendly. I plan on structuring our daily tradition like this:

  • Children’s Bible story
  • Open ornament and identify symbol
  • Read the provided paragraph

How to prepare

Here is what you need to make your Jesse Tree tradition a success:

  • Order or make your Jesse tree ornaments. If you are crafty, google “Jesse Tree DIY” and find a number of craft patterns to make your own Jesse Tree ornaments. I am not that kind of creative. Any handmade craft I attempt doesn’t tend to turn out how I pictured it. As I would like to make this an annual tradition, I decided to invest in a nice Jesse Tree kit. I ordered the "DIY Jesse Tree Ornament Kit for Advent". Don’t let the title fool you. It only takes simple assembly. The ornaments are beautiful wooden disks with an image on one side and the December date and Scripture reference on the other. The brochure/guide is a helpful bonus that makes me very glad I chose this kit.
  • Pick a Jesse Tree. This can be as simple as a small Christmas tree or even a few branches from your backyard placed in a durable vase. We chose a small decorative tree I found at a local craft store. 
  • Decide on your reading material. You may pick one of the above mentioned Jesse Tree books or use a children’s Bible as we are this year. With the above recommended kit, you could even stick to the included guide. We are using “The Picture Bible for Little People." I like this book because each double-page has a short and easy-to-understand story with a comprehension question. It gives me an idea if the little ears were listening. Any children’s Bible you have or purchase can work with the Jesse Tree. 
  • I book-marked the stories we’ll be reading with a Post-it page marker. You can use any post-it note or piece of paper. On each book-mark, I wrote the date and ornament symbol as we plan to read the story before opening the ornament. I believe we will have better success with kids paying attention.
  • Wrap your ornaments or fill an Advent calendar with them to allow your children the joy of opening a package or door every day.
  • Consider the best time for the daily ritual of reading the day’s story and hanging the new ornament. Pick a small time window when the whole family can be present (at least most days) and nobody is in a huge rush. We will likely do this right after dinner

A few additional notes

This ornament line-up corresponds with the Jesse Tree kit and children’s Bible mentioned above. If you decide to order a different ornament kit, I highly recommend waiting for its arrival before book-marking the stories in your children’s Bible. As I mentioned above, there seem to be variations and I’d hate for you to have to redo your work.

Whatever children’s Bible you use, there may be a chance that not every story from the Jesse Tree progression is in your book. That’s the case with ours, starting with any mention of Jesse himself. I’ll let you know how I got around it or which story I chose instead. You can improvise similarly.

Lastly, I want to point out that below is a quick summary of each day with a note about which children’s Bible story we are reading. I am summarizing for your sake with the assumption that these stories are either familiar to you, or you are able to look them up. I do NOT recommend skipping a Jesse Tree kit or book and just reading your kids my two sentences for each day. It will not make much sense to them. However, once you have your children’s Bible and kit in hand, I believe these summaries can be a reference guide, especially when you are struggling to decide which story to read. 

The Jesse Tree daily ornaments

I will reference the story found in “The Picture Bible for Little People" and make the connection to Jesus as outlined in the guide included with the "DIY Jesse Tree Ornament Kit for Advent." Remember that the kit also includes a number of Scripture references each day. If you are confused by any of my statements below, those passages will allow you to read directly from Scripture to understand the connections the Jesse Tree makes.

December 1st - tree stump

Here we go! Time to start the Jesse Tree tradition. As this is the first day and no story about Jesse in our children’s Bible, we will skip the book reading and instead explain to the kids what we’ll be doing every night leading up to Christmas. I may throw in a statement about Jesse being like a great-great-great-great-grandfather (x a bunch) to Jesus. 

December 2nd - earth

God/ Jesus made the earth and everything in it. (story on page 6) 

December 3rd - apple

Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. We all have sinned but are offered forgiveness through Jesus. (story on page 10)

December 4th - rainbow

God saved Noah from the flood. Through Jesus, God offers us salvation, too. (story on page 18)

December 5th - stars

Abraham didn't have a son for a long time, but God promised him as many descendants as the stars in the sky. In a sense, all believers are children of Abraham. (story on page 25)

December 6th - ram

Abraham was willing to give up his son Isaac for God, but He provided a ram instead. Our children’s Bible doesn’t have that story. I understand; it may scare some kids. I will re-read the story on page 25.

December 7th - ladder

Isaac’s son Jacob had a dream about angels climbing on a ladder that reached from heaven to earth. Jesus later said He is kind of like that ladder (John 1:51). (story on page 26)

December 8th - coat

Jacob had 12 sons. He gave one of them, Joseph, a beautiful coat. His brothers were jealous and mean to him. But God saved their whole family through Joseph - just like He would later save all of us through Jesus. (story on page 30)

December 9th - burning bush

God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. God says His name is “I Am.” Many years later, Jesus says His name is “I Am”, too. (story on page 34)

December 10th - cup

The night God saved Moses and his friends, God tells them to mark their houses with a lamb’s blood. It reminds us that Jesus gave His blood so we can be forgiven. If this sounds too scary to your young kids, you may just say that God saved the Israelites just as He saves us through Jesus. (story on page 40)

December 11th - manna

God gave the Israelites bread from heaven to collect and eat every day. Jesus is the true bread from heaven. (story on page 44)

December 12th - tablets

God gave Moses some rules to follow, which Moses wrote on stone tablets. When we disobey God’s rules, we sin. Jesus was the only one on earth who never sinned. (story on page 48)

December 13th - snake pole

Snakes were biting people. When they looked at the bronze snake, high up on the pole, they were healed. It’s like Jesus who died on the cross for us. When we believe in Him, we are saved. (story on page 58)

December 14th - horn

Joshua and his friend blew a horn and the wall of Jericho fell down. God gave the Israelites what He promised them. He also saved Rahab, who is related to Jesus. (story on page 62)

December 15th - grain

Ruth was a foreigner but she believed in God. She was very faithful to her mother-in-law. A man named Boaz met Ruth when she was gathering grain and saved her. Jesus saved all of us. (story on page 70)

December 16th - crown

The people asked God for a king. God did not like that but gave them one - first Saul, then David. Jesus is our King forever. (story on page 74)

December 17th - staff

David was a shepherd before he became a king. Jesus calls Himself our shepherd. (story on page 77)

December 18th - whale

Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days. Jesus was in the tomb for three days before He rose again. (story on page 122)

December 19th - coal

This story is supposed to be about Isaiah’s vision when he realizes he is a sinner but forgiven once the coal from the sacrifice touches his lips (Isaiah 6). This story is not in our children’s Bible. Instead, I am choosing a story about King Josiah. When he learned that the people had not been following God’s rules, he asked God for forgiveness. I’ll still read the paragraph about Isaiah from the Jesse Tree kit guide. The point of connection is the petition for forgiveness. (story on page 128)

December 20th - locust

God sends John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, to prepare a way for Jesus. John the Baptist ate locusts in the dessert. (Yuck!) I’ll be reading the story about his birth. (story on page 150)

December 21st - lily

The lily reminds us that Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary. (Good luck explaining that one…) God had prophesied this. (story on page 148 - Note that in our Bible, this story precedes the mention of John the Baptist. To avoid reading the wrong story, I wrote an “out of order” note on my bookmark.)

December 22nd - hammer

Jesus’ earthy father was Joseph, a carpenter. This fact is not given a separate story in our children’s Bible, so I am reading the story of Christ’s birth on this day. Joseph is mentioned as Jesus’ father in that story. (story on page 152)

December 23rd - sheep

God told a group of shepherds that the Messiah was born right there in Bethlehem, which had been prophesied by Micah. (story on page 154)

December 24th - manger

Baby Jesus was born in a manger. He came to rescue us from our sin. Our children’s Bible has a secondary story about the shepherd’s visiting Jesus in the manger, which we will read on this day. (story on page 156)

December 25th - star

God led the wise men to Jesus with a star. They came to bring Him presents. Merry Christmas! (story on page 160)

What I hope my kids will learn

I can’t tell you in one article the theology and significance found in these stories. They chronicle Jesus’ lineage going back to Adam and King David. They mention various “types of Christ” - that alone is an explanation for another day - as well as the covenant God makes first with Abraham and then with many of his descendants. You could continue this Jesse Tree tradition well into your kid’s college years and still teach new, wonderful things. 

However, none of that will mean a thing to my young kids this year. They may not even truly understand that the stories from creation to the birth of Christ are chronological and just gave them an overview of the Old Testament (and early pages of the New Testament). 

I’ll be honest: If my kids learn nothing but that the Christmas season is actually all about Jesus, not all about presents, I will consider this year’s Jesse Tree a win! They don’t need to walk away with anything else. This is going to be an annual tradition for us. I cannot wait to see what new things they will pick up on each year. I pray this will lead them closer to understanding the salvation available to them through Jesus Christ.

Do you still have questions? Are you trying to assemble your tree and getting stuck? Are you confused about one of the stories? Comment below and let us help you out.

I wish you and your family a wonderful start to the Christmas season.