This is the kind of article you probably needed to read in September, but I am nothing if not last-minute, so here we are, my friends. Pin it, bookmark it, or, if you’re brave, get to organizing your Jesse Tree Swap right now. It’s a wonderful Advent tradition your family will treasure every year.
I belong to a fantastic homeschool group, about 45 families strong. We have club days and park days, potlucks and events. We gather for Mass and prayer and fellowship, and each fall we do a Jesse Tree swap.
This homeschool group tradition began with longtime member, Donna Rossi. She and her husband, John, have four young adult daughters whom they have homeschooled all the way into college. Donna’s own journey with the Jesse Tree began when her two eldest daughters were toddlers; a friend shared the Jesse Tree ornament set her sister had made for her. Donna secured the ornament patterns and crafted two sets for the following year: Donna kept one for herself and gave the other set to her older sister.
A few years later, Donna’s younger sister had a child, and Donna wanted to make another set for her. Since the process is a labor of love and Donna’s children were getting older, she decided to present the idea of a Jesse Tree Swap to our homeschool group.
Each participant would get a set of ornaments to make, and she would make enough to share with the entire group.
“It was more efficient and cost effective to make a few ornaments multiple times than 24 original ornaments,” Donna says. “I found that people can spend more time in their creations, so that the ornaments themselves tend to be more elaborate than those I had created when I had to make all 24. It also gives everyone an incentive to actually complete the project, since we are aware that other families are relying on us to do our part.”
Additionally, Donna sees the project as a conduit for sharing the faith, a “small way to evangelize the next generation.” And evangelize, she has: close to 40 families have participated or been a recipient of a Jesse Tree set since the tradition started.
How to Organize your Jesse Tree Swap
If you’d like to create your own Jesse Tree Swap, the process is pretty simple.
Set a timeline
Donna suggests starting in early September (hence the head note) so each family has time to complete their sets. Reserve a date for two meetings: one at the beginning of the project to coordinate, and another at the end of the project (late November) to swap.
Gather your participants
Each set requires a total of 24 ornaments; the more participants you have, the smaller the workload:
- If you have four participants, each family makes four sets of six ornaments
- If you have six participants, each family makes six sets of four ornaments
- If you have eight participants, each family makes eight sets of three ornaments
- If you have twelve participants, each family makes twelve sets of two ornaments
Hold your first meeting
Once she’s received confirmation from the participants, Donna holds an introductory meeting at her home. She has samples of all the Jesse Tree ornaments she has made over the years, along with a spreadsheet detailing the corresponding Scripture verse. Donna gives a brief explanation of the history of the Jesse Tree, then allows participants to peruse the different options. She organizes the ornament sets ahead of time, then asks each participant to sign up for their desired set.
Pick your patterns and make your ornaments
Options abound on the internet, and you can even start from scratch with your own imagination. Donna encourages the use of durable materials; children should be able to handle the ornaments without fear of breaking them.
For extra fun and education:
- Work on the ornaments as a family by encouraging your children to get involved
- Read the accompanying scripture passage and discuss it before you begin each ornament
- Sing hymns or songs that correspond with the ornament to help your children connect each event to the faith.
Gather for your exchange
This is probably the most fun part, as there is plenty of ooh-ing and ah-ing over everyone’s handiwork. Donna provides light refreshments and an opportunity for conversation as the particpants swap and share.
The Jesse Tree is a beautiful tradition, and making one from scratch is an opportunity for evangelization and love.
Consider organizing your own Jesse Tree swap. Both you and your friends will benefit from the opportunity for fellowship and fun.
Copyright 2017 Ginny Kochis