Many people around the world celebrate Easter not just on Sunday, but all week long. Here are some great ways to bring your family closer to Christ and make Holy Week a tradition for LDS families.
When our family lived in Chile, we were amazed that Easter was celebrated for an entire week. Chileans called it Semana Santa, or the Holy Week. Then I married an Italian and have always admired how seriously he and his family took the secrada, each year. Followers of Jesus worldwide make efforts to remember the last week of Christ’s life as well as His glorious resurrection. Inspired by their examples I realized there were additional aspects of the Easter holiday that could add depth to our celebration and help us better remember the Savior. Now, Easter for us is more than a Sunday-only celebration.
The actual chronology of Jesus’ final week in mortality is a little hard to piece together since the gospels differ, but here is one idea for each day leading up to Easter. These are geared to young children (since that is the stage of life my husband and I are in right now), but the activities can involve the entire family. Teenagers will learn a great deal as they help to prepare and lead activities for younger siblings. Grandparents can also get involved.
Palm Sunday, The Triumphal Entry
(see John 12:12-13)
Use sidewalk chalk (if weather permits) to create a Jerusalem street path on your driveway. An inside option would be to use a hallway in your home. Have an older child pretend to be the donkey on all fours and a younger child can ride on the “donkey’s back” while the rest of the family waves handkerchiefs or palm branches cut from trees or made with construction paper. Cheer “Hosanna!” or sing the Primary song “Hosanna” (Children’s Songbook, 66-67). An easy way to make construction paper palm branches is by tracing children’s hands on green paper and cutting out multiple copies. Fan the handprints so they overlap at the bottom (wrist) and spread out at the top (fingers). Tape or staple them together. Our family attaches the handprints to a large popsicle stick, which allows us to use them year after year.
Cleansing Monday, Sanctifying the Temple
(see Matthew 21:12-15)
Remind children that the spirit cannot dwell in unholy places (see D&C 97:17). Our homes need to stay clean and pure like the temple. List simple chores on slips of paper (water plants, clean bathroom sink, unload dishwasher, sweep kitchen floor) and put them in a bowl. Have each family member choose a task out of the bowl and then set a timer for 10 minutes. See how many can finish their chores within the time allotted.
Parable Tuesday, Teaching the Disciples
(see Matthew 13:10-13, 16)
Play Parable Charades. Read the parables included in the game so children are familiar with them. List various parables on slips of paper and place them in a bowl. Have one family member draw a strip out and that person must act out the parable without words so that other family members can guess which story he or she is presenting. Our family also likes to switch the game around by having the whole family acting out the parable at the same time while one family members guesses. Here is a list to get you started:
- Matthew 13: Sower, Wheat and tares, Mustard seed, Leaven, Treasure hidden in the field,
- Pearl of great price, Net cast into sea
- Matthew 20: Laborers in vineyard
- Matthew 21: Two sons and the wicked husbandman
- Matthew 22: The marriage of the king’s son
- Matthew 24: The fig tree
- Matthew 25: The ten virgins, Talents, Sheep and goats
- Mark 12:41-44: Widow’s mite
- Luke 10: Good Samaritan
- Luke 14: Great supper
- Luke 15: Lost sheep, Piece of silver, Prodigal son.
- Luke 16: Unjust steward, Rich man and Lazarus
- Luke 18: Unjust judge
- Luke 19: Parable of the pounds
Betrayal Wednesday, Offering and Receiving Forgiveness
(see Luke 22:3-6)
In some countries, the Wednesday of Holy Week is referred to as “Spy Wednesday.” Children can be “secret agents” and plan a secret service project either for each other or for neighbors and friends. Explain to children that although Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss, we can use kisses to show love instead. Help them cut out paper hearts and buy a bag of chocolate candy kisses. Choose somebody they want to surprise and spread the hearts and kisses on his or her front porch. Ring the doorbell and run so that no one will know who did it. Our family likes to write loving messages or quotes on each of the paper hearts before we go.
Last Supper Thursday, Beginning the Sacrament
(see Luke 22:14-16; 19-20)
On the evening before Christ was crucified, He and His Apostles gathered to eat a meal together. This has come to be known as the Last Supper, but at the time, they were actually commemorating the Jewish holiday known as the Passover. It was a time to remember when God saved the Israelites from slavery. In place of an actual Passover meal, create a replica by having children draw the traditional food items on paper plates and cups or older children may enjoy helping to prepare and then eat a Passover Seder meal including:
- Unleavened bread: The bread of slavery and freedom.
- Lamb: Represents sacrifice.
- Hard-boiled egg: A symbol of spring and new life.
- Fresh greens: (parsley or celery): Represents new life and is dipped in salt to represent bitter tears that had been shed.
- Bitter herbs (horseradish): Represents what the slaves had to endure.
- Chopped apples and nuts with cinnamon: Like the mortar used to build while in bondage.
- Grape juice: Sweetness represents the promise of a better life.
Good Friday, Jesus’ Sacrifice
(see Luke 23:33-38)
Help children make a paper plate model of Calvary. Cut out a half circle in the center of your plate and fold it up like a hill. Then have children color rocks and grass on the hill. Cut out three brown paper crosses to staple or tape on top. They may want to draw a tomb at the bottom.
Salvation Saturday, Christ in the Spirit World
(see D&C 138:12, 15-16)
To commemorate the missionary work Jesus initiated in the Spirit world, help children focus on missionaries close at hand. Cut out a paper necktie and then decorate it with markers or by making a colorful jelly bean mosaic. This can be done by covering the paper with glue and then arranging real jelly beans or other candies into a creative design. Another option is to make the ties from sugar cookie dough and attach candy with frosting. Children in our family like to write their testimonies and give them along with the ties to local missionaries.
Easter Sunday, Life after Death
(see John 20:1-9)
Eggs have long been a symbol of Easter because they represent new life—the new life that Jesus provided through His Atonement and resurrection. Because Jesus died and came back to life, we will also be resurrected. Because Jesus suffered for our sins, we can repent and be forgiven. But at Easter time, why do we color eggs? This practice teaches that not only does Jesus offer us new life (symbolized by the egg) but He offers to make our lives better (symbolized by the color and decorations). Try having a traditional Easter Egg Hunt with one addition; an egg that has been hollowed out if it is a real egg or left empty if it is a plastic egg. Spray paint this egg gold and teach children that this egg represents Jesus’ empty tomb, which provided a golden future for all of us.
Discover more ways to draw your family closer to Christ this Easter and help you celebrate the true meaning of this important holy day. Pick up a copy of Wendee Wilcox Rosborough's book, The Holy Week for Latter-day Saint Families: A Guide for Celebrating Easter, at Deseret Book or deseretbook.com today!