Jesse Tree Dropout? Try the REAL Nine-Day Christmas Novena!

by | Dec 15, 2018 | Advent, Christmas, December, Liturgical Living | 17 comments

Why yes this IS a new blog-do . . . 💁‍♀️ What do you think?

I really REALLY love this tradition. With my book out and the approximately 4672 radio and print interviews I have done in support of it, I am very often asked what is my favorite liturgical living in the home practice.

It’s this Novena.

When you hear Christmas Novena, you probably think of what people call the St. Andrew Christmas Novena. I am confused as to why people call it that, as the practice of saying this (really excellent) prayer fifteen times a day from November 30th through December 24th is in no way a Novena (which is a prayer done for nine days in a row) and it doesn’t have anything to do with St. Andrew other than that it begins on his feast day. A “Saint Somebodyorother” Novena would END on his feast day. (It’s possible that I care too much about this. 😆🤷‍♀️)  It’s a great prayer, and I recommend it to everyone, whether it’s the fifteen times a day method, or just adding one to Grace After Meals throughout Advent. We especially like to have a printout of the prayer on display somewhere in the house, and write our family prayer intentions for Advent on the back of it. But if we could we all just agree to call it the Christmas Anticipation Prayer, that would be awesome. Anyway, back to the Novena . . .

You guys know me. I am not one to bash religious traditions and pious practices that are working for people. But God love all you people and your twenty-five days of crafting and Bible readings with small children. My hat is doffed to you. I tried a Jesse Tree for one year, and it was just too much for us to keep up with in the hectic early weeks of Advent. (More on the surprising history of the Jesse Tree below.)

Even with all of my very best intentions of getting shopping out of the way early and slowing my roll decorating-wise, there are still school concerts and work Christmas parties and homework and teacher gifts and Christmas cards and baking and a whole bunch of saints at the beginning of December for whom I want to observe some family traditions. I really do want my kids learning salvation history, and how the New Testament is the fulfilment of the Old. But we got so behind so fast, and eventually we abandoned it altogether. It was rather disheartening.

Then I discovered the Catholic tradition of a nine-day Christmas Novena! It’s got all the salvation history, but none of the crafting! And we can do it over just those last nine days before Christmas, from December 16th to the 24th, when school is out and secular parties are over, and I just want to snuggle up every evening by the fire with my family, and prepare our hearts and minds together for the coming of Jesus.

There’s just something about repeating these particular readings and prayers year after year with the kids, about finding that time together and that focus on the true meaning of Christmas. It really only takes 15 or 20 minutes per day, depending on the length of the readings for that day, plus a few minutes for a bedtime snack afterwards.

Any prayer or set of prayers done for nine days straight can be considered a Novena, and there are many different Christmas Novenas out there. The one we use was composed in 1721 by an Italian priest, and contains psalms, Old and New Testament readings, the Magnificat, the O Antiphons, and O Come O Come Emmanuel. Everything ya need, really. 😊

I first came across it online here. But for this year, I finally made it into an illustrated, printable booklet.

We’ve been coming together as a family, and often with friends and neighbors, to say these prayers together for twelve years now. I love that feeling of being united in this devotion with other Catholics all over the world and in past generations.

Quick Jesse Tree aside . . . there’s a perception that the Jesse Tree as it’s practiced now is a very old tradition, but that’s not actually the case. Historically, “Jesse Tree” refers to a medieval Catholic artistic tradition of depicting the royal ancestors of Jesus on a family tree that is actually growing out of the body of the Old Testament figure Jesse.

Jan Mostaert, The Tree of Jesse, 1485

Super awesome, right? I kind of think my chapel needs one of these. It was a popular subject in prayer books and stained glass windows because it easily lends itself to a tall, skinny format. But the POINT of it was for medieval royal-types to prove to commoners that Jesus was of noble blood, and descended from earthly kings. For most of us nowadays, that’s not really a concern.

From what I could find while researching my book, sometime in the twentieth century, Protestants began using the concept of the genealogy of Jesus in the old Jesse Tree images, combined with an Advent calendar, to prepare for Christmas. Since there’s nothing in the tradition that’s contrary to Catholic sensibilities, Catholics began picking it up as well, but the earliest Catholic reference to it as an Advent thing that I could find was in 1983, so it’s rather a new practice for Catholics compared to the artistic tradition. And compared to the Novena, and the ancient O Antiphons.

So, anyway, all this to say that if you’re rockin around your Jesse Tree, then keep it up! But if it isn’t going exactly as you’d hoped, you might have more success with the Christmas Novena. We did. But don’t take blog me’s word for it, let YouTube me tell you all about it, and see it in action with all nine kids plus one goddaughter!

Hope you like the blog redesign! My downloads are now available in a shop right here! I’m not closing the Etsy shop, but I’d prefer it if you’d make purchases here instead, if you’re so inclined. To that end, I have the Novena booklet and the Advent Wreath Prayers Booklet all set for you!

Speaking of on sale, my book is FINALLY available for immediate two day shipping on Amazon! And they have it on sale for over $5 off right now, plus if you spend $20 on books you can use the code GIFTBOOK18 to get an additional $5 off your order. Yay!


  1. Barb

    I remember doing Jesse trees in Catholic parochial grammar school in the late 60s, early 70s.

    Really enjoy your blog, etc.

    • Kendra

      Okay, good to know!

      • Barb

        It might have been Catholic high school in the late 70s, but definitely before 1979 when I graduated.
        My high school was run by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, and my grammar school by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.

  2. Ashley

    Do you do this in place of a daily family rosary? Or in addition?

    • Kendra

      We’ll still do our family Rosary in the car together if we’ve out and about, but it replaces it if we would be doing a family Rosary as evening prayers together.

  3. Kat Crow

    Thank you so much for all of the resources to celebrate and live the richness of our faith! Hopefully I can convince my hubby to add the Christmas novena to our evening prayers since we usually pray the rosary. What’s 15 minutes more, right? 😉

  4. Sarah

    Wait wait! You didn’t say, what’s an O Antiphon *house* or *tower*?? And also, it sounds awesome whatever it is, where do I get one?

  5. Mara

    Oh my gosh I’ve been wondering the exact same things about the “st. Andrew/Christmas novena.” Drives me CRAZY!

  6. Godwin

    Thank you Kendra for sharing this Christmas novena. The Church needs much prayer now more than ever in this storm that is hitting it currently. Gloria Deo!

  7. Aileen

    Your new blog redesign seems cleaner and more personable. I like it!

  8. Kaleb

    Love the new look of the blog and the awesome videos. May Christ’s Joy be with you and your family now and on the days ahead. I am a Catechist and Youth Minister and your blog keeps me inspired for activities and ways to celebrate our beautiful faith. God bless!

  9. Shannon

    Well, I think the 1954 Liturgical Press booklets on Advent and Christmas customs reference Jesse Trees. They are on EWTN’s website, hard to get paper copies of. I have lots of friends here in midwest who have gone back several generations in their families with the Jesse tree tradition, with hand me down ornaments, probably is hard to find such families but they are out there. Love your chapel, what a gift to your family.

    • Kendra

      That does help, thanks! 1950s it is!

  10. MerMer

    Just wanted to say my husband and I said the Christmas Novena some years ago after you mentioned it on your blog. We were praying for a co-worker’s breast cancer to be cured, as she was anticipating having a double mastectomy right after Christmas. When she went in to see her doctor one last time before her schedule surgery, her cancer had gone. It was just…gone! #miracle??

    • Kendra

      Wow! How beautiful!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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