A few years ago I was visiting my friend Anna, and she had a front room full of colorful wooden pegs in all sorts of phases of painting. At that time I was newly married, and had yet to be immersed in the world of Catholic parenting. She was making wisemen for a nativity peg doll swap. As her daughters proudly showed me all sorts of different peg dolls they had- Marian dolls from all over the world, various saints and angels, Anna explained to me how the group she was part of worked. You would get a theme and a character, then you would make enough of that character for everyone in the swap. I immediately loved the idea and tucked it away as one I would like to try myself.
Fast forward to last year around this time, and getting ready to celebrate Advent. I had always done a Jesse tree in my classroom, but never one at home. With our son on the way, I wanted to start strong with Catholic traditions for him, the way I was raised. I got in touch with a bunch of families connected with the school, and we decided to run a Jesse tree swap.
We used the Jesse tree resources from Loyola Press, which you can find here. We had 13 people in the slot, so with 28 ornaments, each person was assigned two. I filled in the remaining slots and did four ornaments. Each person then had to make fourteen of that ornament so that at the swap we would each get a complete set. We met the Sunday after thanksgiving for a night of prayer and snacks and we all shared our ornaments with the group. It was a blast.
Here are some tips and tricks I learned from the experience for if you want to have your own Jesse tree swap. I have also included some ways I think this could be adapted for younger Catholics.
- I love the resources from Loyola Press, but their Jesse Tree stories are not always the most well known. For me as a religion teacher, this is ideal because it exposes my students to Bible characters like Nehemiah, Ezra and Hezekiah, who they might not otherwise know. As we did the swap, it became apparent that a lot of people don’t know these guys, so finding versions of the stories they could tell their kids was a bit tricky unless they knew the story themselves. My fix for next time: there are a few Jesse tree books available online specifically designed for kids and families. We could all get the book (they were between 7 and 10 dollars on Amazon) and make the ornaments to correspond to those stories instead.
- I love the 28 ornaments to go with the 4 weeks of Advent, but it was hard to find 14 people to do the swap. I think it wouldn’t be that hard to double up some stories (for example Elizabeth and Zechariah could go together, or there are two Jesus ornaments) to make the group smaller or the number of Bible stories smaller. It is very rare to have a 28 day Advent anyway.
- If doing this with students, there are coloring versions of the ornaments or you could do what I do with my class, where everyone gets the same size and shape circle ornament and draws their own art. You could still run that like a swap- the student gets enough circle shapes to make her/his ornament for the while group.
- The party and prayer sharing time was for me the best part of the whole swap. As a full time teacher, and now the mother of an infant, it is really hard to find time to pray and share with other adults. The schedule for the evening was simple- we had snacks then sat in my living room, sang a few advent songs and each explained our ornaments. We then ended with praying for each other and our families during the Advent season. We had so much fun that night, and people have already asked me if I would be willing/able to organize a similar swap another time.
The variety of talents displayed in the ornaments is amazing! I love my set so much more than if I had made them myself!
Even if you can’t do a Jesse Tree swap, the tradition of the Jesse Tree is one of my favorites. You can find free online printable versions of all the stories and the ornaments if you just want to use it as an easy way to pray with your family or class this Advent. Our Church does one at the beginning of Sunday masses each week during the Advent season.
For other ideas for how to use a Jesse Tree with your students, check out my other post about it here.
Happy Advent! (Soon!)
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