In 2011, just before Easter, I was talking on the phone with a friend in Virginia, who is Catholic. She is dear as my own mother. She told me about Mass on Palm Sunday and how she knelt like she usually does during the service, but at some point felt so humbled by what Christ had done for her, she didn’t want to get off her knees. Each day of the Holy Week was significant to her. She remembered each event.
I treasure my Mormon roots, but when she spoke, I longed to celebrate Holy Week with the greater Christian world.
I wanted an Easter vigil service, like the one I attended at St. Ann’s in Jerusalem years ago, where we lit candles in anticipation of the resurrection morning. I wanted a special lesson on Palm Sunday, or at least the mention of it. I wanted to teach my children about the Passover. I wanted a way to remember Good Friday and each of the other Holy Days.
So I decided to make Holy Week as significant as I could. At least with my family. In small ways, small remembrances, and by reading God’s words.
Over the last five years our traditions have evolved. We’ve added things in, dropped some out. And the week has become sacred to us.
On Sunday we gather budding boughs from one of our fruit trees and decorate a simple easter tree with cut out pictures of the Savior’s life, ribbons, eggs. Then we read about the triumphal entry.
On Monday we visit Temple Square for Family Home Evening, talk about Jesus’ final cleansing of the temple, as well as the teaching and healing he did there during his last week. (This rowdy throwback pic is from a few years ago.) Then on Tuesday or Wednesday I do work in the temple. To worship, serve, and remember.
On Holy Thursday we set the table with china and share our own simple version of a Passover meal. Right now it’s take-out from Layla’s, our local Mediterranean restaurant. But in time, I’d like to cook a real Passover meal, with lamb, bitter herbs, matzah and boiled eggs. We discuss the Seder, the Sacrament, Jesus’ washing of feet, and Gethsemane.
On Good Friday we make Hot Cross Buns (our favorite recipe is from Pioneer Woman), talk of the crucifixion, and do our Easter Walk.
Our Easter Walk has become a highlight of the week. The kids participate in a treasure hunt to find symbols of nature that represent moments in the Easter story. I got the idea from this book by Deborah Rowley. I keep thinking our kids will tire of this romp through my parents’ yard, but they never do. And each year we try to invite new families to participate with us.
On Saturday, that day of waiting, we color eggs and prepare our lanterns. Then at dusk, we light the candles and hang our Easter lanterns from a tree in the front yard.
Several years ago, while trying to figure out how we could create our own Easter vigil, I came up with the idea of lanterns, a “tree with lights in it,” as Annie Dillard would call it. A tree full of tiny flames, flickering, signaling. A silent expression of faith in that glorious being who rose like the sun on Easter morning. This has become my favorite Easter tradition.
Last year I was so touched, as images on Instagram and Facebook started popping up. Friends around the world were lighting their own lights and putting them in windows, tying them to branches, placing them on doorsteps. All quietly witnessing their love for the Light of the World.
Then, of course, on Easter Sunday we hunt for baskets, attend church, eat a traditional Easter dinner.
We have learned to be flexible. One year we had french toast for our passover meal. I couldn’t get to the store and that was the best we could do. Last year my sister texted me to say her hot cross buns hadn’t risen and were now “it’s the thought that counts buns.” We had a good laugh. Lots of times I’m trying to read scripture and I have kids climbing on couches, digging elbows into each other, or stomping off in tears. We have flip flopped holy days, fit things in when we could. We do what we can and that is good enough. It shouldn’t be stressful; it should be joyful.
And we rarely travel around the Easter holiday because it’s tax season for my husband and he is working long hours. So staying put makes it easier to immerse ourselves in rituals like this.
But really, my greatest hope is that through the years, these traditions (which have pretty much evaporated the Easter Bunny – although he still comes because it’s fun and I love marshmallow chickies more than my kids), will nurture within my children a deep and enduring love for Christ. Their Advocate, their Savior, their Redeemer. I want them to know Him, feel Him, and be able to testify that He lives.
I want them to feel like this:
My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak. More than sentinels for daybreak let [us] look for the Lord. – Psalms 130:6
Now, I’d love to hear your ideas.
How do you make Easter meaningful? What traditions or rituals do you or your family have that point you to Jesus? What ideas can you share with us?
Catherine Arveseth is mother to five children, including two sets of twins. She is an exercise physiologist by profession, writer by passion, loves hiking with her family, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the edge of an ocean. She and her husband, Doug, began their family in Virginia but now live in Salt Lake City, Utah. She blogs at wildnprecious.com.