It’s two weeks from now, and you’ve dropped by to borrow an egg. From the front door, where you stand chatting with me about the weather (weirdly clear, and the grass is crunchy with frost), you can see our kitchen table and on it, a jar full of gathered branches. If you squint, you can see a few small ornaments hanging from the very tips of the branches—our daughter’s preferred spot to hang them being as close to the end of the branch as possible, so that looking at the fragile globes suspended over our Formica-topped table gives you a sense of nervousness that you can’t immediately place.
Perhaps you think, That’s an odd centerpiece, as you pocket the egg and walk home.
But if you came back two weeks after that, with a plate of homemade Christmas cookies for us (you are the kindest and most sharing neighbor), you’d find those branches covered in ornaments—twenty-five of them, more or less evenly distributed over the branches. And you would sit at the table with us and drink tea (because we’re nice neighbors, too), and as we talked, you’d notice that each of those ornaments has a picture on it: a sheaf of wheat, an ark, a scribble meant to be a snake. You would put down your tea and look at them closely. You’d finally ask, “What is this?”
And I would say, “Oh! That’s our Jesse tree.”
But now, let’s say that you want to make a Jesse tree of your own. How would you go about it? Assembling the tree itself is pretty straightforward—we use the process as an excuse to lightly prune the lilac beside our porch—but collecting the Jesse tree ornaments is a bit more challenging. You need twenty-five different ornaments, after all, each of them printed with a specific image. Would you purchase the ornaments pre-made? Could you make them yourself? (Would you even want to?)
Here are your answers, in short: yes, yes, and possibly, I suppose, but that depends on what sort of person you are, whether you’d rather spend time or money on this project, and if the thought of making twenty-five of anything makes the back of your neck feel unpleasantly ticklish.
So. Let’s explore your options, shall we?
I now have two separate sets of Jesse tree ornaments (one to accompany The Advent Jesse Tree, the other to accompany a different book that didn’t work out for us), and I made each set for under $10 and in what amounts to roughly one hour, spread out over the course of a few days. (There were small children involved, after all.)
For the set on top, I used air-dry clay and Sharpie markers. The process is quick and meditative: shape the clay into 25 balls, smoosh them into discs, and use a bamboo skewer to make the holes. After the clay has dried thoroughly (and not a moment before! I learned that lesson the hard way), draw the symbols recommended in your book on the front of the disc; number the back (you’ll thank yourself later). Run twine, string, or ornament hooks through the holes and voila! The season is officially begun!
For the set on the bottom, my original set, the process is even easier. I bought a package of those tiny ornaments at a craft store for under $5 and decorated them with a gold paint pen. (Note: you can find my tutorial for that origami Advent calendar here.)
And now you know how you’ll be spending your weekend.
But for those of you who would rather not spend your weekend drawing tiny pictures on round bulbs, there are other options. These ones will cost you more in money than time, but they’re beautiful and they will probably last longer than my ornaments will. The one thing you have to watch out for, though, is that some sets are designed to go with a certain book. Make sure you double check the symbols before purchasing.
For a customizable option, take a peek at these beauties from the Etsy shop Jesse Tree Treasures (update from 2022! We recently purchased a set of these ornaments to correspond with The Jesse Tree. They are gorgeous, well-made, and we love them!) You can customize your order by choosing from 60 possible images for your ornaments. That way, you can ensure that your set matches whichever book your family follows (for the record: I love this idea):
And then there is the gourmet, deluxe, extra-fancy set from the Etsy shop Baby Whatnots. This listing includes a full set of handmade ornaments, as well as a copy of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (we weren’t, for the record, crazy about that book) and all the goods you could want to make your very own Jesse Tree (except branches—you’re on your own for those):
And now that your research is done, you can start thinking about those cookies. (We like chocolate, if that helps. And sprinkles.)