It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Or it’s supposed to be, anyway. Or something.
As Catholic parents, we understand that Easter is the highlight of the year, and Holy Week? Well, it’s the crescendo, the climbing action leading to the big culmination–the climax of the Church calendar! We want to share this rising intensity, this somber celebration with our children. We want to pass onto them the reverence, the deep divine intimacy, the surpassing joy.
But if we’re honest, Holy Week is a hard sell to the under-20 crowd.
Tagged onto the tail end of a sober, sacrificial Lent, it just doesn’t hold the appeal of Advent. Not to mention, the rest of the world isn’t celebrating with us, like they do in December. In contrast, you’ve got Christmas, which the secular world harbingers with sparkling displays, cookies, candy, presents, parties, and all the indulgent ingredients of childhood fantasy.
So, how do we usher in Easter in a way that is meaningful to our children?
We don’t have to transform Holy Week into a candy-saturated carnival in order to get its message across and, quite frankly, it’s probably better if we don’t. But it can be all too easy to simply let the week slip by with little to no acknowledgement, winding up at Easter Sunday with its tulips and chocolate bunnies and ham (am I the only one looking forward to the ham?) with no reference for our kids to grab onto so they can realize how truly awesome Easter is!
We don’t need to do much. (Much is a little *much* for busy moms in the midst of spring break and Easter prep, amen?) But by doing something small and significant, we can help our children draw connection from Lenten giving to Holy Week reflection to Resurrection joy in a way that will help them grow, year over year, in faith.
So without further ado, here is my round-up of favorite Holy Week activities to get you started on building the traditions that work for you and yours. There’s something for kids of every age and stage (yes, even those surly teenagers). Remember, these are just suggestions, a jumping-off place. Please do not feel you need to do every activity, bake every food, or craft every craft. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.
The power of simplicity. Or something.
PASSION (PALM) SUNDAY
- Go to Mass. At this stage, and especially considering the length of the gospel reading, this is enough. Your child isn’t going to understand, retain, or remember much at this point, and mama can get plenty worn out just wrangling the under-4 crowd in the pew. I do not recommend you add any more to your plate. You made it through Mass, well done!
- Create a palm display. Remind your children that these are sacramentals, not toys (or weapons). Have them help create a display, perhaps near your family’s prayer corner or little oratory – and remember to return them to your church next year to be made into ashes for Ash Wednesday!
- Make palm origami.
- Make Hosanna handprints.
- Make footprint donkeys. This is a favorite with my littles. We don’t do it every year, but when we do, there is much rejoicing!
- Paint a crucifix. Because there isn’t enough paint in your life, right?
- Make Lenten vigil candle holders. You could use this for family devotions throughout Holy Week.
- Create a photo transfer prayer bag for Holy Week.
- Watch The Passion of the Christ. You might choose to save this for Good Friday, but we tend to have so many other things we’re already doing that day (like Stations) that this seems like a good alternative. (Warning: It is graphic.)
HOLY MONDAY, TUESDAY + WEDNESDAY
- Make rosary quiet books for Good Friday. This one’s all on you, mama. No pressure. I only offer it for the crafty among us who are itching for something to stitch. (I’m pretty sure these kinds of moms exist, but it may be they are mythical, like rainbow unicorns. On the off chance, you are real Crafty Mamas, does someone want to make me these? Because they are super cute.)
- Start The Robe as your family read-aloud. You’ll need to make it through several chapters a day to make it through my Easter. You could always start it earlier, but it’s a gripping story, and your kids will probably beg you to keep reading!
- Make Stations of the Cross grottos – to be used for a special outdoor stations on Good Friday?
- Make a patchwork, scrap-wood cross.
- Create a Nail and String cross. This would be a wonderful centerpiece for a backyard passion play. (See next.)
- Write and rehearse a passion play with friends or siblings. Invite friends and neighbors for a Good Friday performance. Maybe candlelit? Maybe in your backyard? This would be a powerful evangelization tool.
HOLY (MAUNDY) THURSDAY
- Make it to Mass. I know, between the Gospel-that-never-ends last Sunday and the overpacked parking lot you’re anticipating on Easter, the last thing you probably want to do with littles is go to yet another Mass. And a crowded one at that. Hear me out. Holy Thursday Mass is one of the most powerful, sensory experiences of the Church year. The procession of the Eucharist, the washing of the feet… it’s so tangible, so relevant, so human. My children love this Mass. I can’t recommend enough that you try it–even if it means you ditch all other plans for the day. And if you make it through evening Mass and everyone’s alive at the end? Well done! (Don’t sweat the small stuff. Or the screaming. You’re laying the cornerstones of a lifelong faith.)
- Veil crosses, crucifixes, and holy images in your home.
- Picnic in a garden. In my neck of the woods, spring is in full swing. We love attending our local tulip festival, and Holy Thursday (when we remember the Agony in the Garden) can be a great occasion to enjoy some spring flora. Enjoy a simple picnic lunch of bread, cheese, fruit, and veggies and read the story of Gethsemane (Luke’s version is particularly action-packed). (This can also be the perfect chance to snap some photos of your kids in their Easter clothes–just be sure to change back into regular digs before you eat!)
- Stay awake. What tween wouldn’t love permission to stay up extra late? Keep vigil for an extra hour (or two) past bedtime. You can pray or read the bible or other spiritual book by candlelight. What a special way to welcome your child into the adult faith world.
- Create an Agony in the Garden diorama. Leave it on display through Holy Saturday.
- Adore Him. If you have a local adoration chapel, hit up this last chance for Eucharistic adoration before Easter. (Most chapels stop adoration from noon on Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday.)
- Pray for your vocation. This yearly anniversary of the institution of the priesthood is the perfect time for teens to commit their own (probably still uncertain) vocation to the Lord in prayer.
- Paint a watercolor crucifix. This is a lovely, gore-free depiction of the Crucifixion of Our Lord that gives even the littlest littles a hands-on connection to the significance of the day.
- Bake a batch of Hot Cross Buns. They won’t get the symbolism yet, but any age can enjoy this tasty + traditional treat. You can sing the song while you make the dough.
- Watch The Easter Story. My kids love this animated depiction of the Last Supper, Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
- If you homeschool, cancel class for the day and work on these awesome Holy Week Notebooking Pages instead.
- Make an Easter Garden. You won’t have time to grow wheat grass, but you can easily do the variety with the moss.
- Watch The Robe. Whole family-friendly, but I think the story is more appealing to the over-10 crowd. This can be a fun cap to your read-aloud adventure if you decided to read the original. (Warning: The book is better. But that’s always the case, isn’t it?)
- Host and lead a candlelight Soup + Stations for your family and friends. This is great if your teen can’t get away from school or work obligations during the noon-3:00 hours. It’s a powerful way to evangelize and to bring a visceral sense of reverence to this sacred day. (Notice I suggest the teen lead the event. Taking ownership of personal faith by being a contributing member of the faith community is one of the most powerful ways to keep your teen active in the faith as they transition into their independent young adult years.)
- If you haven’t already done so, watch and discuss The Passion of the Christ. (Warning: It is graphic.)
- Bake resurrection rolls. This story-and-baking project is such a fantastic way to help your littles appreciate the significance of this otherwise pretty unrelatable (for them) day.
- Make an Easter story wreath. In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training, catechists learn never to separate Christ’s Passion and death from his Resurrection. In speaking to the children, they will say (for example), “Jesus died…and then He rose!” This connection may seem obvious to us older folks, but young children really benefit from having the connection made for them. Every time. With so much emphasis on Christ’s death today, this circular depiction of the Easter story can be a powerful reminder that in dying, Jesus conquered death!
- This crowd will love making Resurrection Rolls, too.
- Stay up late (again!) This time, to remove the Triduum veils (on crosses, etc.), decorate for Easter, and assemble + hide eggs and baskets for younger siblings. It’s a wonderful act of service for the family and an exciting way to usher in the Resurrection! Plus, your tween gets to stay up til midnight!
- Attend Easter Vigil. Arguably the most powerful Mass of the year. This can be an incredible experience for teens, who are often deeply in touch with the beauty of the liturgy and the significance of its symbolism, even if they don’t completely understand it on a strictly intellectual level.