April 2, 2006 12:44 PM
Two Dozen Easter Traditions
I am a little late in posting this, since some of the ideas are for the beginning of Lent, but there are still a lot of useful ideas. I particularly recommend getting a copy of The Messiah and bathing your family in it. Also visiting art museums to see the many portrayals of the passion. Both are included in the article below, which originally appeared in Christian Parenting Today.
Two Dozen Easter Traditions
To Enrich Your Familyâ€™s Resurrection Celebration
Iâ€™ll never forget our familyâ€™s first Christian Easter. With the children snuggled down for the night, my husband Tripp and I dutifully filled five waiting baskets as we had done all the years before. But something seemed to be missing, which was strange because something had really been added - our understanding of the true meaning of Easter - Jesusâ€™ Death and Resurrection.
â€œDid we forget anything?â€ I asked as we arranged the last colored eggs.
â€œIâ€™ve got the same feeling,â€ Tripp said. â€œI think itâ€™s just because weâ€™ve changed. The most important part of Easter now will be church tomorrow morning.â€
Looking back 19 years later, I understand the unsettled feeling we were sharing. Two children who had celebrated Easter with baskets and bunnies had grown up with little else to pass on to their own children. Yet since we wanted our new relationship with Christ to be part of our familyâ€™s daily life - not just Sunday only - Tripp and I were always interested in ways to bring the message of Jesusâ€™ resurrection home.
We needed traditions.
Traditions - especially those children can see, hear, feel, smell and taste - provide vivid impressions on which parents can build year after year. There are many which will enrich your own familyâ€™s celebration of what might be more accurately called Resurrection Day. Choose a few from this collection, share their meaning in whatever words your children will understand, and keep the ones you like as part of your familyâ€™s Easter heritage.
Lent is a forty day period before Easter set aside as a season of soul-searching and repentance. The forty days reflect Jesusâ€™ withdrawal into the wilderness for his own time of spiritual reflection. Sundays, because they commemorate the Resurrection, are not counted. In the early church Lent was a special time when new converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism on Easter.
Churches which follow a liturgical calendar - annually reliving the major events in Jesusâ€™ life - place great emphasis on Lent. Whether your own church makes much or little of these forty days, your family will benefit from preparing in advance to celebrate Jesusâ€™ Resurrection. Children will cherish Easter more with anticipation sweetening the weeks before.
1) New Life: Begin early in the year (as soon as your Christmas tree is down!). With your children, plant crocus, daffodil, or hyacinth bulbs in a bowl of sand, covering halfway. Leave in a dark closet for two months, keeping soil moist (a process known as forcing bulbs). When shoots appear, let them bask in the sun. Donâ€™t forget to leave one bulb unplanted as a reminder of how they began.
2) Devotions: Lent can be a time of family focus on the meaning of the Christian life. You may want to commit to a regular pattern of family worship - daily, weekly, or whenever you can. Or you may post Bible verses, especially the words of Jesus, on the refrigerator, bathroom mirrors, wherever a busy family is sure to see them. Talk about them at dinner or on the way to school - especially how verses apply to events in our daily lives.
3) Giving up: Traditionally, especially in Europe, during Lent there were no weddings, no dancing, no singing. No flowers or alleluias in churches. Some families may find spiritual value in giving up something for Lent - television, sweets, video games - not as a penance, but as an outer symbol of dying to self during a season of spiritual reflection.
4) Mite box: Select a charity that helps those in need. Help your children decorate a box with a slot on top. Display where everyone at home will remember to contribute their change. On Easter, empty box, count together, and put a check in the mail. This custom can be directly related to the preceding one: giving up to give.
5) Pretzels: Bake your own pretzels (check your own cookbooks, library or Internet for recipe - or buy the frozen ones). Pretzels originated as early Christian Lenten treats, designed in the form of arms crossed in prayer.
6) Easter Seals: Support or volunteer for this organization, founded in 1934 as a means to raise funds to help children with disabilities. In the original words, â€œEaster means Resurrection and New Life, and the rehabilitation of crippled children means new life and activity . . . physically, mentally, spiritually.â€
7) Jonah: In Matthew 12:39-41, Jesus points to the story of Jonah as a sign of his own destiny. So this is a great time to review it with your children, discussing the issues of sin, obedience, and Godâ€™s mercy.
8) Easter in Cyberspace: Check out this site for many, many Christian Easter links, including history, poetry, drama, and daily meditations.
9) Giving: While we usually think of Christmas for gift-giving, Easter has a richer heritage. God gave His Son. Jesus gave His life. Find ways to give unconditionally: money to the homeless person on the corner, treats for those in nursing homes, old clothes to children in another country. Jesus told us clearly, â€œWhatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.â€ (Matthew 25:40)
10) Handelâ€™s Messiah: Invest in a CD or tape and bathe your family in this beautiful classic, clearly composed under divine inspiration - each segment a Bible verse prophesying the birth, life, death, and finally the resurrection of Jesus. (The Hallelujah Chorus was a celebration for Easter morning following the Lenten absence of alleluias.)
11) Resurrection Eggs: An egg carton filled with a dozen plastic eggs, each containing a symbol of the Holy Week. Accompanied by twelve brief child-friendly lessons. Usually available from FamilyLife Ministries 1-800-FL-TODAY, but they are sold out. You can make your own - instructions here.
12) Palm Sunday: If your church doesnâ€™t make much of Palm Sunday, you might consider just once attending one that does. For an in-home celebration, read Matthew 2:1-11 together. If you have a large family or a few friends, you can put together costumes and act out Jesusâ€™ arrival in Jerusalem.
13) Seeds: Seeds offer a clear message to children of the power of new life. Rest eggshell halves filled with soil in egg carton. Plant a marigold, petunia, or grapefruit seed in each (or even grass seed for fastest results). Place in sunny window.
14) Art Museums: The Passion of Christ is the most-portrayed subject of Western artists. If you live in a metropolitan area, a visit to your local art museum may give your family much to ponder.
15) Housecleaning: Wednesday of Holy Week has been a traditional day in many countries for housecleaning - from the Jewish custom of cleaning before Passover.
16) Passover: Each year more Christians are drawn to celebrate Passover, the feast commemorating the departure of the Israelites from slavery (Exodus 12). Jesus had come to Jerusalem to celebrate and was actually crucified on Passover Day. He is the fulfillment of this tradition, as our own Passover Lamb.
17) Foot Washing: This Maundy Thursday event speaks volumes about Jesusâ€™s desire for us to serve. Read John 13. Wrap a towel around your waist, as Jesus did, and wash your childrenâ€™s feet. Your lives might never be the same.
18) Three Hours: Observe Jesusâ€™ crucifixion by reading the Biblical account together. Sing old hymns of the Crucifixion and the Cross: â€œWere You There When They Crucified My Lord?â€ â€œThe Old Rugged Cross,â€ â€œWhen I Survey the Wondrous Cross.â€ Most Catholic churches offer Stations of the Cross, fourteen plaques circling the interior walls which depict the final hours of Jesusâ€™ life. You may want to visit and contemplate these, one by one.
19) Hot Cross Buns: Traditional Good Friday fare for the family to make and eat together
Saturday of Holy Week
20) Jesus: Watch Campus Crusadeâ€™s beautifully-crafted evangelical movie, scripted only with words from the Gospel of Luke (order here)
21) Easter Greeting: Greet each other with â€œAlleluia, the Lord is risen!â€ and answer â€œHe is risen indeed!â€
22) Sunrise Service: Attend one offered by a church, or climb a hill with your family, worship together, and share a picnic breakfast.
23) Special music: Listen together to Sandi Pattiâ€™s moving â€œWas it a Morning Like This?â€ Listen again. Discuss how it must have felt to see our risen Lord. Was anyone who saw him ever the same? Jesus said those who believe without having seen are blessed (John 20:29).
24) New clothes: New converts were traditionally baptized at Easter, wearing new white garments to symbolize their new life. If your family has new Easter outfits, share with your children where this tradition came from.
Somewhere in the Easter celebration, you may be coloring eggs and visiting relatives. Eggs then can become subtle way of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Like seeds, eggs are very much a symbol of new life. Traditionally they were also a symbol of Easter joy because they were a forbidden item during Lent. Nowadays, dyed to take to grandmotherâ€™s for an annual Easter egg hunt (as our family does each year) they can bear all manner of joyful messages.
Share with nonbelieving relatives and friends what your family is doing for Easter this year - maybe next year theyâ€™ll join in.
Whatever traditions you keep, remember that for believers Easter is a celebration that really never ends.
Make It Real for Little Ones
Young children are not abstract thinkers. To learn, they need to see. Experiences like growing seeds or bulbs give them a concrete image, providing a bridge into the abstract concept of new life.
Books with lots of pictures are a must for children to understand Jesusâ€™ death and Resurrection. For preschoolers, go easy on the torturous events leading to the Crucifixion as they could be too intense and upsetting. Concentrate on the tomb - finding it empty holds a lot of drama for children.
For even more excitement, make the story three dimensional.
Using clay or papier mache, construct a tomb and a stone. Create a scene, as simple or elaborate as you wish, of Jesusâ€™ burial site. Make or look through the toybox for plastic figures to represent Jesus and the guards. Wrap Jesus in a shroud (gauze from the medicine cabinet is perfect), place him in the tomb on Friday. Roll the stone in front of the opening of the tomb, using appropriate vocalizations to show how heavy it is. Now station the guards in front. No one is to touch the stone, although with the childrenâ€™s help, the guards may march back and forth to stretch their legs.
On Easter morning the children should find that during the night the stone was rolled away. The guards are lying outside the tomb, the gauzy shroud is inside, but Jesus is gone!
Read whichever Biblical account fits your childrenâ€™s ages or attention spans - some gospels have more information than others. Then â€œdiscoverâ€ the Jesus figure nearby. Now the words have meaning: â€œHe is risen!â€ â€œHe is risen indeed!â€
The Episcopal Church also uses the Stations of the Cross tradition, and I love it. I am also a big fan of the foot-washing service. I like these ideas and hope I can use them someday with a family of my own.
Posted by: Michelle | April 2, 2006 4:59 PM
I thought that number 14 about going to art musems and looking at different portrayals of the passion is a very interesting and neat idea.
I think it'd be neat to have a docent or tour guide go through and explain them to you...also I think that would be a really neat way to share Easter with some one else by allowing them to explain that to you.
--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com
Posted by: RC of strangeculture | April 2, 2006 5:54 PM
Another thing that we do every year on Good Friday during the hours from 12:00 to 3:00, is
to watch the passion of Christ in "Jesus of Nazareth", Zeffarelli's beautiful story of Christ. The actual crucifixion is a bit intense for very young children, but my boys asked to watch it last year and it really helps them connect to Jesus and His passion. We turn off the DVD at the part just before the the Resurrection and then go to that part on Easter.
Also, there is a beautiful Mass at Catholic churches everywhere on Holy Thursday. The washing of the feet and The Lord's Supper are so beautiful.
There is a Seder Meal, which is the traditional Passover Meal, that has been "Christianized" and all of the beautiful symbols that God gave to the Jews are given additional meaning with the message of Christ. I just can't remember where I found it online.
Easter is truly the greatest of our feasts as Christians. Thanks for sharing so many ways to bring it alive for our children.
Posted by: Jennifer | April 2, 2006 8:30 PM
Some great ideas. I had to giggle at the idea of washing my children's feet as being life-changing, though. I do that every day as it is. :)
Posted by: T- | April 16, 2006 1:51 AM
I'm a 65 year Grandfather who was raised in church and never had much time to do things with my children. Your ideas are great, I,m going to do some of them with my GRANDCHILDREN. Thanks so much.
Posted by: Arthur Bliss | March 19, 2008 3:30 PM
I LOVE these ideas and plan to do some of them with my 4 and 2 year old this year. Thanks so much!
I have been very blessed, as well, by readings from Phyllis Tickle's book Eastertide. It has readings for each of the days of Lent and it is so inspirational. God bless!
Posted by: Jenny Davis | April 19, 2011 10:26 PM