I 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.