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Photo: Janis Olson Photo: Janis Olson

A Lenten tree helps us master new life-giving habits

Starting good spiritual habits can be hard. Yet every Lent, we begin the  process again, removing obstacles that prevent a greater closeness to Christ, and challenging ourselves to stretch further in expressing our faith in ordinary daily life.

Our family uses a powerful visual tool — a “Lenten tree” — that helps us see the new life that springs from our commitment to Lenten disciplines. Fifteen years ago, I saw the idea in a book called "The Forty Days of Lent for the Christian Family" by Teresa Zepeda (now out of print). It’s become a favorite annual tradition.

Before Lent starts, we write down our individual Lenten plans — centered on fasting, abstinence and almsgiving — and gather supplies to make our tree.

The tree begins as a large, simple drawing of a trunk with bare branches. Next to it, we write a Scripture verse, our chosen theme for this Lent, and the children help cut out green paper leaves. On Ash Wednesday, we hang up our bare tree near our kitchen table, along with an envelope filled with the leaves and a glue stick.

Every day that we complete our Lenten promises, each member of the family glues a paper leaf on the tree. Throughout Lent, we watch as the once-barren tree gradually comes to life, a direct result of our commitment, faithfulness and good works. (My children are the ones who notice when we’re running low on leaves and replenish our supply.)

We also write Scripture verses on the trunk and tree branches, whenever we come across something we feel belongs there. The written words provide some texture, like tree bark; but more importantly, they provide encouragement and inspiration.

Seeing other family members glue on their leaves is a great encouragement and, if we need it, also a good reminder to fulfill the daily tasks we’ve set for ourselves. No leaves are added on Sundays, our “mini-Easters,” but Zepeda suggests adding a root to the tree after Sunday Mass: “Just as the Eucharist nourishes our souls, the tree receives nourishment through its roots.”

This simple activity has become a very important way for my family to observe Lent. Each year the tree is unique, both in appearance and theme. We look forward to seeing what shape the tree will be and which Scripture verses will appear throughout Lent. It is a cooperative work of art, made of sacrifice and commitment, that encourages us on our journey.

May you be ready for the “beginning of the fast,” the caput ieiunii, and may your Lenten journey be fruitful. Agnus Dei, miserere nobis!

Lenten tree poster

Lenten tree leaves
Photo: Janis Olson

You'll need:
- White butcher paper or poster board
- Black pen
- Green construction paper in different shades
- Legal-sized envelope
- Scissors
- Glue stick
- Bible

Cut the desired size of white paper or poster board, then draw an outline of a tree with branches.

Choose a Scripture verse that will be your theme for Lent, and write it in large letters next to, or underneath, the tree.

Cut a quantity of leaves from the green construction paper. I use two different shades of green, light and dark, so that as the tree fills up, it looks like some leaves are newer than others.

Tape the tree poster on a wall in a convenient place in the house.

Fold back the flap of the legal-sized envelope, creasing it into place. Tape the envelope onto the wall next to the tree. Fill it with the leaves and tuck in the glue stick.

Each day that Lenten commitments are fulfilled, each family member glues a leaf on the tree.

At least once a week, add a new Scripture verse to the tree, either along the trunk or on one of the branches.

Northwest Catholic - March 2017

Michelle Bruno

Michelle Bruno is a member of Kent’s Holy Spirit Parish. Contact her at