Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Putting the Jesus back in Easter April 9, 2009

Filed under: Culture,Holidays — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 10:13 pm

draped-crossthI have a close friend whose children are similar ages to mine, has worked in churches for years, and is a very intentional and thoughtful mother.  Huge blessing.  In response to my email query to several friends asking “Ideas for making Easter biblically relevant and celebratory for a three-year old?” she replied:

“I really want Easter to be very special/fun without being pagan, which feels difficult.  I have always felt like, in our culture, Easter is either Christian or fun.  Martha Zimmerman’s Celebrating the Christian Year is a great resource for lots of ideas on Christ-centered family traditions around holidays.  And she says that kids don’t have to get it the whole deal, per se.  I think that’s the liturgical take on things– that you let them live into the story over time, and ritual aids that process.  

I’ve been reflecting on what my 3-year old remembers of Christmas.  The biggies for him are the tree, presents, and songs.  In light of that,  I’ve liked Zimmerman’s idea about telling the story incrementally through the week, and then decorating your house as you follow the story.  We’ve been reading the story from Carol Heyer’s The First Easter (it ends up being about one page a day– beautiful pictures and well written) over breakfast with some success.  We could use some music to go with it, but have been singing “In Christ Alone” as a sort of Easter hymn.  At our old church, the kids always jumped up when they got to “then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave he rose again” line, and I’ve been doing that with my son and he loves it. 

Following a Good Friday service, Zimmerman suggests blackening your house in some way– dimming lights, pulling shades, dark tablecloth.  She also suggests making a big cross on Good Friday with your kids following, telling them the story (not sure we’ll attempt that one).  And then leave things fairly austere and dark through Saturday until after the kids are in bed on Saturday night.  Then, for Sunday morning, she suggests that they wake up to a decorated cross with white sheet at the bottom, angel decorations, flowers, presents and special treats, Hallelujah chorus– a transformed house.  In essence, give to Easter what we give to Christmas– decorations, surprises, presents– and use those things to focus your family on Christ.  While it sounds like more work that I am used to, I think there’s wisdom in the idea.  I see how our son is still talking about the Christmas tree, etc. I’m going to make an attempt in this direction this year.”

Great ideas.  Since I got organized to even begin pondering a Christ-focused Easter just yesterday, I’m not sure how far we’ll get toward implementing them this time around.  But, this year being the first in which we have a child old enough to “get” Easter at a conceptual level, I do accutely feel the absence of normative methods to unpack and celebrate Easter well.  I mean, here’s a celebration that is every bit as significant as Christmas that kids (even among us Christian families) routinely commemorate with a new dress, a church service, some candy, a hunt for colored plastic eggs, and maybe a massive mascot-like bunny thrown in for good measure.  Not much compared to the Jesus-focused components of  Christmas like nativity scenes, advent calendar, advent wreath with candles, Christ-focused carols, and more.  After all, Christmas is the background story – the intro – for Easter, with the Grand Finale and all the meaning really coming through on Good Friday and Easter morning.  Surely we can figure out a way to reflect this in how we comemorate it?

But of course there are ways, and my goal now is to wracking up good ideas for use now and in the future.  We bought a set of Resurrection Eggs yesterday (12 colored plastic eggs that each contains a small object from the Easter story) and began opening them last night – the plan being to open 2 – 3 eggs per day through Easter.  Yesterday we discovered a tiny donkey and three silver coins, and our son is waiting with baited breath for tonights’s reveals.  Next year when we have our act together, perhaps we will make a set of our own.  I also got a little Easter game based on matching eggs that my son enjoys that, in the end, displays the story of Christ on the game board.  [We are considering baking the symbolically rich resurrection cookies on Saturday, too, though I do fear that the process, verses, and components may be a bit over our son’s head at his age.] Part of the goal at this stage, as I see it, is simply familiarizing our son with the components of the Easter story which are – let’s face it – considerly more involved than those of Christmas.  We’re reading board books that tell the story in a simplifed way daily and then trying to connect the concepts to the resurrection eggs, the game, etc.

If anyone has input about Jesus-focused Easter traditions, components, games, drama, songs, books – you name it – that work well for preschoolers, let’s hear ’em!  I’m on the hunt.

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4 Responses to “Putting the Jesus back in Easter”

  1. Lis Says:

    This year we read the kids a lot of books and children’s Bible stories (with lots of visuals) about Easter and the surrounding events, everyday for about a week or two. Then on Good Friday, we re-read the Good Fri. account in their children’s Bible (actually, they told us the story as they looked at the pics), and then we put heavy backpacks on each kid (like the heavy cross) and took a short hike up to a beautiful lookout… like the journey up to Golgotha.

    We debriefed the experience and thanked Jesus for the hard things he did for us (our 7-year old did ask for a “Simon” to help her carry her pack :). After that we had a great time eating breakfast, enjoying the view, and then having a fun egg hunt up there. Nice balance of focusing on Christ’s sacrifice and enjoying His abundant blessings.

  2. heartpondering Says:

    Great insights from Molly about how they celebrated Easter in a tactile/kinesthetic way with her 3 year old son and his toddler brother:

    “We like the adventure of figuring out how to add more details of the Easter story each year. It’s hard to know how much information/which information will benefit a preschooler’s understanding of the big picture. This year, we tried making an Easter Mountain as suggested in a book we have been reading (Treasuring God in our Traditions, Noelle Piper). After talking about the cross on Friday , we put Jesus’ pipecleaner body in the “tomb” in the mountain, both boys were both excited to see Jesus “alive” again first thing on Sunday morning. I think we’ll do this again next year.”

  3. heartpondering Says:

    Just found this post called “Family Devotional Activities for Easter” that’s laden with great ideas and resources:
    http://www.aholyexperience.com/2009/04/family-devotional-activities-for-easter.html
    I like the Easter Tree and Easter Garden with candles particularly. More fodder for next year!

  4. Megan Says:

    Yes, I also saw the instructions for the Playdough mountain/tomb from Piper’s book. I can’t wait to do it next year, even for an 8 month old 🙂

    http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1719_tell_the_easter_story_with_a_playdough_mountain/

    This year, we got a late start to it, but my husband and I did a nightly Holy Week reading. On Good Friday, we had some couples over and did praise and worship as well as readings. We devised a set of candles where one was snuffed out that night. Saturday, no candles were lit, and then Sunday morning, my husband had lit all 5 of them and we did more music and reading.

    I must admit, this year, Easter actually felt like Christmas to me…the anticipation of Easter morning was almost palpable! And worship was incredible, I was physically drained afterwards. Granted, I probably ought to feel that way every Sunday, but it was refreshing nonetheless.


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