Thou shalt not neglect a Jesse Tree in thy house during Advent lest thy descendants die in utter ignorance of Scripture while clutching only a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Loads of us think we should do a Jesse Tree.
Loads of us hate doing the Jesse Tree.
Voila! Loads of Catholic Mom Guilt.
We've done a Jesse Tree for a long time now, but -- listen to me very carefully -- it was a process. Here's the thing: Don't do what I did. Don't think the Jesse Tree has to be perfect (or perfectly executed each and every Advent) for it to do what it was meant to do.
The Jesse Tree readings/activities have a cumulative effect. Do enough imperfect Jesse Trees over the years, and eventually your children will absorb some perfectly wonderful Scripture and knowledge of salvation history. (Or don't do one at all. There are lots of ways to learn things. But this post is for the mom who wants to do a Jesse Tree and simultaneously stresses about said tree.)
Here's our current Jesse Tree. My girls and I made the ornaments (many moons ago) out of salt dough. I use a small, artificial Christmas tree and I arrange Christmas books beneath the tree.
When my girls were little, our Jesse Tree was generally a hit-and-run mess. But it's when they're little that you start stressing, right? ("They're little! I have to do it now! They'll never learn if I don't start when they're three!") Wrong. You can mess up a Jesse Tree for years, and they will still eventually learn stuff.
One year our Jesse Tree looked like this:
I was pregnant with Ramona that year, and I was old and tired and I gave myself extra points merely for breaking out the glitter.
Another year it looked like this. (I think Ramona was a toddler? I was old, I was tired.) That is the worst looking construction paper tree I've ever made or seen. We didn't even finish the Jesse that year:
Another year our Jesse Tree looked like this:
Yup. That's right. Nothin'. I searched in vain for the perfect tree branch to place in a pot as I tried to follow a friend's example. I tried so hard to be perfect that year that I frustrated myself completely and abandoned the entire activity. Anne-with-an-e was 11 before I finally decided to use the little artificial tree.
Still not perfect. I'd never made salt dough before and made it wrong, so the first set of ornaments regularly indulged in cracking and breaking habits. Then there were the times we had to make more ornaments because -- who knew? -- dogs love to eat salt dough.
So after a few years of trial and error, I finally started using The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean. Atticus read the stories in the evening, after dinner. Sometimes we missed a couple of days. Or a lot of days. Eventually, we'd catch up in the book, and add a few more ornaments to the tree.
The thing to remember about the Jesse Tree -- the thing that will keep you from despising it -- is that not only does it not have to be perfect, I don't think it should be perfect or perfectly executed. It should be like the human and divine history it's teaching: messy, full of skips, jumps, and mistakes, but with a gleaming, golden thread running through the whole thing, tying it together, proclaiming that God is there for us in the mess, always. Year in, year out.
So, don't do your Jesse Tree every day, on schedule, legalistically. Have a Miss Frizzle tree: take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!
The knowledge of Scripture that a Jesse Tree teaches is cumulative; it's supposed to be. It's like doing the same kinds of math problems every September. It's review.
Over years and seasons of Advent, you'll discover that it doesn't matter which tree you chose, which ornaments you made or bought (or slapped with glitter) or which set of readings you used. It won't matter that some years you couldn't even face the thought of a Jesse Tree and you skipped it. What will matter is the irreplaceable, imperfect time you spent you with your family and God's word.
And while you're at it, read the Grinch, too.
For more on all things Advent, go to the Monstrously Long Post.