Holy Week and Easter traditionally provide a wealth of opportunities for remembering, meditating and celebrating at church. Adults may set aside time for more intense prayer, study and service. But what do families, especially those with younger children, do at home for Holy Week and Easter?
"While many families celebrate Advent in the home, it may be harder to observe Holy Week at home," acknowledged Lynn Gilliam. "After all, it's much easier to talk with our children about the baby in the manger than it is to discuss Jesus' death and the events leading up to it. But just as the observance of Advent helps us to prepare for the celebration of Christmas, observing Holy Week helps prepare us for the joyous celebration of Easter."
Gilliam, former senior editor of Pockets, a magazine for children published by The Upper Room, shared several ideas to help families journey toward Easter together and then to make Easter a season long, rather than one-day, celebration.
Have simpler meals. Fasting, one of the most ancient spiritual disciplines, is not appropriate for everyone, certainly not for young children. But simplifying meals can remind everyone of the solemnity of the week leading up to sunset on Holy Saturday. Simply eliminating desserts is an easy way to do this. Talk to your children about how giving up something we enjoy can remind us of Jesus' giving up his life for us.
Read together about the events of the last weeks of Jesus' life in your Bible. Children who are old enough and enjoy reading can read some of the passages to the family.
Add the events of Holy Week to your family prayers. For example, you could pray, "God, we remember today how Jesus served his friends by washing their feet. Help us to serve others, too."
On Easter Sunday, celebrate at home – as well as at church – in a big way. Make "Christ is risen!" banners to hang around the house. Have a special food. If fresh flowers – a colorful symbol of new life – are available, bring some in to decorate the spaces where your family gathers. Teach your children the traditional Easter greeting "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" and the response "The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!"
Other ideas include:
- Give up technology (TV, cell phones, Internet) for a period of time and spend that time as a family engaged in community service. (This is another way to teach children about fasting.)
- Use an age-appropriate Lenten Bible study or read Easter books.
- Plant seeds (marigold, petunia or grass seeds) in an eggshell carton filled with dirt; sprouting seeds send a clear message to children of the power of new life.
- Check Pinterest and online blogs for Lent- and Easter-related craft ideas.
- Host an at-home foot washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday using the account of the Lord's Supper in John 13:1-11. Washing someone else's feet, especially for children to wash their parents' feet and each other's, can be a powerful experience.
- Watch the sunrise together on Easter morning (the time of day the Resurrection was discovered) before going to church.
Talking about Holy Week
During Lent, Holy Week and Easter, children may ask pointed and difficult questions about why Jesus had to die or the events leading up to his death and Resurrection. While parents should be mindful about how they talk about the details, children can process them when shared appropriately.
"Children are open to the cycle of life and the reality that everything has birth and dies," said Melanie C. Gordon, director of ministry with children at Discipleship Ministries. "We only need to make it simple for them. Talk to them in terms they will understand.
"One way to engage children in looking at the cycle of life during Lent," Gordon offers, "is through a camera lens by seeking out images that help us turn to God." The Florida Annual Conference invites people to post pictures to social media that relate to daily devotions on their blog. This is an excellent way to use media as a positive tool," Gordon says. Rethink Church is including a Lenten Photo-a-Day feature on its website.
Sharing the painful and sad story of Good Friday with your children can be challenging. "We talk about the day Jesus died, that he died on a cross and that it hurt," said Mark Burrows, director of children's ministries at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. "But we don't focus on what people did to Jesus. Instead, we focus on what Jesus was doing for them — blessing the people, asking God to forgive, even blessing another who is on the cross."
Burrows reminds parents "children can't un-see images or un-hear words." He continues, "I work very hard to be honest without being graphic." During these conversations, it's good to remind children that sometimes feeling sad is OK and that God is with us even in our sadness.
Easter is a season
To continue the celebration throughout the Easter season, Gilliam suggested "creating a family worship space — a table, a corner of the family room, wherever the family can gather — if you don't already have one. Decorate the space for Easter with symbols of new life — flowers, a budding branch, pictures of butterflies or baby animals (invite children to draw these or cut them out from old magazines), etc. In the days following Easter Sunday, gather there each day as a family to pray together and read a short passage of scripture about the events following the Resurrection."
Another post-Easter Sunday activity is to practice kindness and helping others. This could range from delivering flowers leftover from a church service to homebound people in the community to writing notes letting individuals know your family is praying for them to baking cookies for the neighbor next door. The number of people who could use Easter cheer is almost limitless and the joy of Easter is good news for all.
Burrows offered an interesting idea churches might consider.
"When I was a kid," he said, "one of the coolest things after Easter was to find that one chocolate egg that had gone unnoticed. It was like a little bit of Easter had snuck into the following week.
"I wonder what we could do as church leaders to have a few 'Easter eggs' hidden away. Maybe the choir doesn't do all their greatest 'hallelujah hits' on one morning, but saves some for the following week or two.
"Then, don't 'advertise' it. Members who show up the Sunday after Easter are rewarded with a little something extra. If you do this every year, people start to catch on. They think 'Hey! This place doesn't simply trot out their finest one Sunday a year and then go back to the usual. We better not miss, because one never knows what Easter eggs this church has tucked away!'"
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee. She will be looking for that unnoticed chocolate egg after Easter. Parts of this story were adapted from articles published earlier by Lynn Gillliam and the Rev. Joe Iovino, content writer for UMC.org.
This story was published February 27, 2017 and was updated February 17, 2023.