It can be really difficult to keep our children focused on the meaning of Christian festivals, like Christmas or Easter. But as Christian parents we have a duty to keep these festivals holy for our children, and ideally without making them feel like they’re missing out on what their non-Christian friends get to have (usually lots of presents or chocolate!). Somehow it seems a bit easier at Christmas – churches and organisations work hard to provide a whole host of child friendly events to help children remember that Christmas is about the birth of Christ.
Holy Week on the other hand is quite a different story. To start with, you’re trying to walk your child through a mingle of sorrow and hope – emotions that they’re not always ready to deal with. Secondly, there are plenty of quiet, reflective Holy Week services – but my 4 year old 2 year old and 7 month old are certainly not suited to quiet, reflective communion services! This means that, if our children go to church on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, they miss out the critical bit about the Cross of Christ – unless my husband and I are intentional about ensuring that they don’t. I wholly believe that responsibility for my child’s spiritual well-being falls with us and not the church, but at Holy Week, more than ever, it is absolutely critical that we remember this! These ideas are ones I’m hoping to use with my boys. They’re still really young, so my aim is primarily to walk them through the story in ways that they can understand. I get that the Passion narratives are steeped in symbolism, but at 4 and 2 I think it’s probably wisest to stick to teaching the story in ways that help it come alive and answering any questions they might have.
Eggs and Bunnies
Let’s deal with this at the outset. They can’t be avoided at Easter, and I don’t think that keeping Holy Week holy means my boys (or, indeed, me!) can’t indulge in a few chocolate eggs. There’s some symbolism to be drawn out about new life, but I just don’t think my boys will get it yet. So, for this year, I’m going to *try* and turn a blind eye to the bunnies, but use plastic eggs to store little bits of the story in (kind of like resurrection eggs) so that hopefully when they see Easter eggs they draw an association with the Easter story…it might work!
Throughout Holy Week
As far as is possible we’re going to have a candle lit throughout Holy Week (I’ve managed to find some LED ones in Poundland which makes it easier). The idea is that, come Good Friday, we’ll turn it out when Jesus dies and not relight one until Resurrection Sunday. I know I said we weren’t going for symbolism, but I think this might provoke some interesting questions and discussions, and it will help in explaining the emotions we might be feeling this week.
We have Easter story bunting up throughout Holy Week – partly decorative, partly a great opportunity to tell the Easter story often. To make ours I bought two copies of The Very First Easter (you’ll need two because there’s writing on both sides of a page), cut the pages out (much to my husband’s dismay!) stuck them on some card and used them to make bunting.
Holy Week Activities
So, for each of the days I’m going to put a little hint as to the part of the story we’re on in a plastic egg (I picked up a pack of 8 in Poundland) – a bit like an advent calendar. Then there’ll be some kind of activity to help the story feel more real for them. For each day you could either read the story out of their Bible for them, or read it from your Bible, or just tell it in your own words – it really doesn’t matter.
Day 1 – Palm Sunday
In the egg : a paper leaf If you’re particularly creative go for a miniature palm leaf, but if you’re like me something green and vaguely leaf shaped will do.
We’ll be off to church for our Palm Sunday service, so hopefully the boys will get to experience the story in a different way there.
Then in the afternoon we’ll try out making own palm leaves (again, vaguely leaf shaped paper cut outs, but a bit bigger). If the boys feel like it we might get the glue and glitter out and decorate them, but the main part of the activity will be playing ‘Jesus riding on a donkey’. Now, we do have a pretend donkey, but I suspect daddy will probably end up giving donkey rides to both boys while I somehow play the entire crowd! But you could always ‘make’ some kind of donkey using a picture of a donkey’s face stuck to a broom or something – children have a fantastic capacity for imagination, so no need to panic if you don’t have access to an actual donkey (and far less cleaning up!)
Monday – Cleansing of the Temple
In the egg: play money If you can get hold of pretend notes rather than coins, that might help distinguish it from Wednesday’s egg which has coins for Judas’ plan to betray Jesus. I managed to pick up a selection of play coins and play notes in Poundland.
This story is about Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple in anger at the traders there and whilst I’m sure my boys would delight in an excuse to overturn our actual tables, I’m less keen. So I think we’ll try building tables out of Duplo (though anything that you can build out of would work fine) and discuss the story while we build them. Then enjoy a good destruction session imagining we’re Jesus and really angry.
Tuesday – Jesus’ teachings
In the egg: a verse from Jesus’ teachings We’ve gone for Matthew 22:37-40, but pick whichever verse or passage you like from Jesus’ teachings between the Triumphal Entry and the Passover Meal.
There’s not really an activity today, but just being intentional about trying to talk about Jesus’ teachings and especially the verse or passage you’ve picked. I’m really excited to see what Boaz draws out and the questions he asks.
Wednesday – Judas plans to betray Jesus
In the egg: silver coins I confess, the ones I have aren’t silver – but I don’t think Boaz will mind!
This is a tricky one – trying to explain trading a person’s life for money with a 4 year old! We’ll have a go at playing ‘shops’ or go to the shops and pay in cash for things, and talk about how we can buy and sell things for money. Try and draw out whether they think it was a good thing for Judas to ‘sell’ Jesus to the people who wanted to hurt him. If your child asks ‘why’ Judas did it – feel free in joining me in feeling totally at a loss as to how to answer! I suspect they won’t be asking for a full theological summary of all the interpretations – I’m hoping to be able to go with the explanation that it was part of God’s plan and see where we go from there.
Thursday – Last Supper, Gethsemane, Jesus arrested
In the egg: a piece of cracker or bread
There’s quite a lot of story to tell today and so quite a few activities that you could do. The primary activity today is the Passover supper. We don’t do this properly – we just have some unleavened bread and grape juice (it’s our personal decision that our children at too young for wine) and tell the story of the last supper. We begin with foot washing. We also have a sandpit so might try and persuade the boys to stop around in that for a bit, so they get an idea of just how dirty the disciples feet might have been. After the enactment of the last supper we’ll go out into the garden to read the rest of the Gethsemane story (hopefully – this is England and weather permitting etc – but if you can’t, perhaps just turn down the lighting to create a bit of an atmosphere).
Interestingly, we did just the last supper with Boaz when he was 2 and nearly a year later we moved the table to the middle of the room for something else and he said ‘Oh, that’s where we have the bread and the grape juice’ – so I think more sinks in that I may realise!
Friday – Crucifixion
In the egg: nails
This is a really emotionally complex day, and we need to tread carefully, taking care to be sensitive to how emotionally mature our children are and what they can understand and process.
In the morning try making an Easter play set. This’ll help you to tell the story, but also help you be able to see what your child has understood by how they play. Consider including the angels and empty tomb now because, although not technically till Sunday, we do know the end of the story and I think that can help get us through Good Friday. Our children, especially if they’re particularly sensitive, may need the rest of the story explaining today, so that they too can experience the sorrow mingled with hope.
Then build a cross using Duplo (or something similar). If your child can understand the concept, write or draw things we want to seek forgiveness for on small pieces of paper. At noon, put a picture of Jesus on your cross, followed by the pieces of paper, explaining that forgiveness is only possible because of the Jesus taking our sins upon the cross. At 3 o’clock blow your candle out, take Jesus and the pieces of paper off and put in them all in a tomb (this can be your play tomb or one you’ve built from Duplo too). Hang some black material or paper over the cross and explain that, even though we know the end of the story is good, we’re still all really sad because Jesus died and was separated from God for all the sins we’ve committed and will commit, so that we don’t have to be.
Saturday – Waiting
In the egg: nothing This was a day of mourning that first Easter, because they didn’t know what was happening. As far as they thought the story had ended: there was nothing more. But we do know that there is much more to come, so though we do still mourn today, we are also waiting, and preparing to celebrate. Don’t light your candle today.
Today would be a good day to recap on the whole story in some way. Perhaps watch a film like Miracle Maker or the Gospels volume of What’s In The Bible as a family, or there are plenty of other possible options out there.
Get ready for Easter Sunday. Bake some hot cross buns together (or go and buy some) and talk about the cross on them, and how they’re round like the stone of the tomb. You could make some resurrection napkin holders to help you retell the story the next day. Just before bed, perhaps make some Easter cookies to help reinforce the sorrow of the story with the anticipation we have for the next day.
Sunday – Resurrection
In the egg: cloths Any bit of white fabric (or even a bit of toilet roll) will do to show that Jesus has left the tomb and all that’s left are the cloths!
Today is a day to CELEBRATE!!!! I’m talking hot cross buns, chocolate and champagne (maybe!) for breakfast, music, party clothes (especially if you have little girls who love party dresses). Take down the black material, put up some white and yellow or gold material if you have it. Get a MASSIVE candle and light that because Jesus is ALIVE. Just sweep your kids up into the excitement with whatever you might use to celebrate.
Churches up and down the country will be putting on their best celebration this morning – go and join in one! Later in the day you could do an Easter egg hunt by refilling your eggs from the week, plus perhaps some chocolate. Then send your children on a hunt to find them in order. Open each egg and see if they can remember the story. You could have your Easter gifts at the end too.
None of this is prescriptive in any way – just some suggestions of ways we’ll be trying to keep Holy Week holy for our boys this year. But they’re not a list of ‘must do’s’ – the point of Easter is that Jesus has saved us and set us free. We are no longer at the mercy of the wrath of God, because Jesus bore that wrath and annihilated death. The war against sin and death which had held us captive has been won. So don’t tie yourself down to set activities and schedules, but ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and your children this week, to show you afresh they joy of Easter. Sometimes the unexpected teachable moments that come our way are far more formative than any planned teaching or activities we have. So have a holy Holy week and praise God that, because of His great love, He sent His only Son, so that all who believe will not perish but have eternal life.