Jesse Tree

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Jesse Tree

The Jesse tree gets its name from a prediction made by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah describing the rise of a great, new Jewish leader as "a branch" growing "from the stock of Jesse" (Isaiah 11:1). In reference to this prophecy, medieval artists frequently painted portraits of Jesus and his ancestors on the limbs of a tree, with Jesus at its crown and Jesse at its root. This image was called a "Jesse tree." The identity of Jesus'ancestors played an important role in establishing his identity as the Messiah. In recognition of this fact, both Gospel Nativity stories included an account of Jesus' genealogy. Chapter one of the Gospel according to Matthew, which directly precedes Matthew's account of Christ's birth, begins by listing Jesus' ancestors. The Gospel according to Luke (3:23-38) offers a slightly different account of Jesus'ancestry (see also Gospel Accounts of Christmas).

The Jesse tree has long served as a symbol of Jesus' ancestry in Christian art. In recent times, however, people have begun to use the image of the Jesse tree to adapt the modern Christmas tree to specifically Christian ends. Ornaments representing events in the lives of Jesus'ancestors are hung on an evergreen tree or tree branch. Some people add symbols for other biblical figures and events as well. For example, Moses may be represented by stone tablets, David by a six-pointed star, Jonah by a whale, and Judith by a sword. Decorated this way, the evergreen becomes a living Jesse tree.

Further Reading

Augustine, Peg, comp. Come to Christmas. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1993. Metcalfe, Edna. The Trees of Christmas. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1969.
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Some Jesse trees are real Christmas trees, while others are large banners.
The Jesse Tree is a symbol of Jesus' family tree, with ornaments that represent biblical stories from Creation to the Nativity.