Our family has determined that we would rather celebrate the resurrection of Jesus without the trappings of the Easter Bunny, colored eggs, and candy. At the same time, we realized that for our children, traditions would be an important part of them understanding and celebrating the holiday with us.
If you are wondering whether it is cruel to leave your children out of the whole Easter Bunny/Easter basket tradition, keep in mind several things:
1) Many of us grew up with much simpler Easter traditions and we did not feel deprived.
2) Many American children are not Christian and do not celebrate Easter.
3) Many Christians around the world have never heard of the Easter Bunny.
Here are some ideas to get you started on your own family traditions:
1) Children’s books are a lighter way to introduce the heavy topic of Jesus’ death. You can also look for books on the Passover and the seder, Jewish celebrations that place Jesus’ death in cultural context. If you are on a limited budget, consider your local public or church library. Older children might appreciate The Jesus Film. The Passion of the Christ, while moving, may be too graphic for most children.
2) Create anticipation with a Lenten or Holy Week count down. You can do this in a manner similar to making an Advent calendar. You can even make the countdown calendar a kind of a craft activity. Our family will probably make a count down banner with images of what occurred during Holy Week such as a palm for Palm Sunday, bread and wine for Maundy Thursday, and a cross for Good Friday.
Don’t forget to end your countdown dramatically. You want to aim for something sober and sad for Good Friday and some kind of surprise for Sunday morning.
Another approach is to do something starting on Good Friday and ending on Resurrection Day. An activity that was meaningful to us was to sit in a circle and as each person mentioned one of their sins, they put a stone in a basket. We covered the basket with a red cloth, for Jesus’ blood. On Resurrection morning, all the stones were gone, and in their place were empty tomb rolls (see below)!
3) Make or buy a Resurrection set, and use the set to retell the Resurrection story. This year we went the way of simple puppets made of toilet paper rolls, but you could get fancy and make figurines out of clay or play dough. Making the puppets is part of the fun and part of the learning. A Resurrection Garden is another way of doing this. Be sure you keep in mind the life cycle of the plants you are using, in order to give yourself enough time to have the craft ready for the holiday. Some people use variations of Resurrection eggs. This is much less labor intensive, and tells more of the story of Holy Week. However, a child must have the ability to understand some symbolism to really understand Resurrection eggs. In my experience, most children under the age of 4 years old do not understand the story when it is told this way, and the activity focuses more on the colored eggs than the contents.
4) Food is always an important part of any holiday. Sometimes, though, food can take over the meaning of a holiday. Thanksgiving is an example of this unfortunate phenomenon. I think the best advice is to make something nice, but simple. Evaluate whether it caused you or your children to focus on the food or on the special nature of the day.
There are a few recipes out there for sweets representing the empty tomb. The repetitive nature of making rolls and cookies is especially conducive to retelling the story of the empty tomb. Even very small children can catch on if the story is repeated often enough. Beware of pumping your children full of sugar before church on Resurrection Sunday morning, though. I realize that many kids will be there hyped on chocolate eggs and jelly beans, but do you really want your child to miss out on this special morning service because their head is buzzing with sugar?
5) Church services can be helpful to some children and painfully counterproductive for others. Good Friday services can sometimes be particularly difficult for wiggly little ones. If you are bringing a young child with you to a traditional Good Friday service where quiet reflection is expected, it would be wise to review these tips on helping a child stay quiet in church.
6) Consider incorporating an international flair into your celebration. This might be something from your own family roots, or it may be something that is a tradition in a country you are interested in. For example, you might investigate how the Resurrection is celebrated in a country your child is studying in school, the country of a child you family is sponsoring, or a country where your church is sponsoring a missionary family. This is a great way to emphasize that Jesus died because God loved the world.