Things are pretty weird this year. Holy Week is my favorite time of year, but I’ll be honest, I’ve been a bit sad about it. I am so used to spending a lot of time at church and with churches being closed, I am keenly aware of that absence in my life. But, I decided it was time to stop mourning and start figuring out how to celebrate Holy Week at Home.
We have always done some Holy Week activities from home to supplement going to church. This year, we’re pulling those out, along with a couple other ideas to make this Holy Week a special and meaningful time no matter what. Take a look below and see if there’s anything you’d like to do with your family.
How to Celebrate Holy Week at Home
Please be gentle and give yourself some grace here. This is not intended as a list of things you “should” do. It’s only presented as a list of ideas, in case they are things that will bring you more peace and joy during this Holy Week.
Also, remember to adjust some of these activities or skip them entirely if your children are really young or if it might be unsettling for any of you. The sadness of Jesus dying and the way He died can be difficult for children at the best of times.
Make palm crosses – use construction paper if you don’t have any palm leaves (some churches have been sending them out).
Find something to wave in place of palm leaves – branches that have fallen in your yard, scraps of fabric or articles of clothing (bonus points for being green), really almost anything will do! Read the story of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem or watch one on Youtube. Wave your “palm leaves” and call out “Hosanna!”
Hang up something green on your front door or in your window for passersby to see. You could add the word “Hosanna” or choose something else to let them know you are celebrating Jesus and Palm Sunday. It will be like a “stay at home” Palm Sunday parade.
Have your own Palm Sunday service at home.
You could simply choose a few appropriate readings, prayers and songs and hold a brief celebration with your family. Or there’s a complete Palm Sunday service outlined here.
Attend an online Mass.
You can attend a Palm Sunday service with the Pope online. It will be live at 5 am Eastern time though, so you might want to watch the recording of it later.
There are many other churches offering Sunday and weekday Masses. Ask around or search online.
St. George’s Catholic Church in London, Ontario is the one providing these Masses for our diocese.
Put together a Holy Week wreath.
You might not have a wreath on hand. You could possibly repurpose your Advent wreath or maybe you have a plain wreath that would work. But, you don’t even need a wreath for this at all.
Find a bowl, basket, or plate that you can use. Fill it with things that remind you of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. A crucifix. A large nail (if your kids are old enough that this won’t be a safety hazard). Scraps of purple and black cloth. Some green leaves or other green items to represent palm leaves. Silver coins.
Decorate a candle to use on your prayer table (home altar) or to put in the center of your Lenten wreath.
If you have any large pillar candles on hand, you can use one for your celebrations this week.
Cloves are reminiscent of the spices and incense used as part of Jesus’ burial. Use 5 cloves pushed into the candle in the shape of cross. Often the scent of the cloves will intensify from the heat of the lit candle. If you want a more interactive way of decorating candles, this one involving coloring pictures on tissue paper works well.
Create a home altar.
I mentioned making a candle for your home altar but perhaps you don’t even have an altar. Now is a great time to put one together. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. I have one in my bedroom and it’s often my focus during prayer.
This could be a good place for your wreath (or substitute wreath). Consider adding things like a Crucifix, holy water, holy oil, flowers (even dried or silk ones), rosaries, and candles. A Bible or two (one for adults and one children’s version) is a great resource here too.
Make an altar cloth or table runner.
Using fabric crayons, markers, or paints, work together to create a beautiful altar cloth or table runner to put on your home altar. You could also use it all throughout Holy Week as a table runner on your dining table and again next year throughout the Lenten season.
Since the vestments used in church are red, you could carry this theme into your home by serving a red dinner or dessert.
Monday of Holy Week
Make perfume diffusers and talk about the story of how Mary helped prepare Jesus for burial by anointing his feet with perfume. Oh Amanda has a lovely idea for this here. Want to make your own perfume to use for this activity? This one uses food extracts to make a food grade perfume. If you’d prefer one that’s more floral scented, this one uses flowers and/or herbs.
Write an email to a member of the clergy.
Ask them a faith question or simply thank them for what they do, especially during this difficult time.
Tuesday of Holy Week
Gather together as a family to renew your baptismal vows.
If you have holy water at home, each person can make the sign of the cross with it as part of the ceremony.
Find stones in your backyard and paint story stones. These would be a great addition to your home altar.
Take part in the Sacrament of Penance together.
Hold a simple penance ceremony at home. A simple way is to write down things each person is sorry for (or let the little ones draw pictures for theirs).
Then, if you have a fireplace or campfire handy, you could symbolically burn these. Barring that, you could simply rip them up into tiny pieces of paper. If you’re okay with the mess, celebrate the release of these sins by throwing the paper up in the air like confetti!
Do some spring cleaning.
This is a traditional day for housecleaning. This stems from the Jewish custom of housecleaning in preparation for Passover. If you don’t have time to do a full cleaning, clean out one room, one closet, or one drawer together. Or ask each person to find 3 things to clean out of the house and box up to give away to charity.
Pope Francis will celebrate Mass commemorating the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, April 9, at 6 p.m. (Rome time – I believe that’s noon our time)
Have a Passover Seder.
We have one every year and we look forward to it probably more than anything else we do all year long. Follow a Seder ceremony online (here’s the one we use) or use the basic outline as a foundation and create your own. After all, celebrating Passover is what Jesus was doing on the night before He died.
Do a foot washing with your family.
Tell the story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.
I know yeast is hard to find this year in some places but I’ve heard of people substituting sourdough for the regular dough in my recipe.
Bake pretzels together.
They are a symbol of the Holy Trinity and arms crossed in prayer. Here’s my recipe for soft pretzels.
Bake unleavened bread on Holy Thursday as a connection to the Last Supper.
Recipe for unleavened bread: Combine 1/2 cup of white flour, 3/4 cup of whole wheat flour, 3/8 tsp of salt, 3/8 tsp of baking powder, 3 T of vegetable oil, 3/8 cup of warm water, and 2-3 T of honey. Mix together until just combined. Pat the dough out into a circle and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 15 minutes at 400 degrees F.
Make kid-friendly Stations of the Cross for at home.
You could make these on Holy Thursday so that they’re ready for Good Friday or this would be a great activity to do on Good Friday before attending them online.
As you make the stations together, this provides plenty of opportunities to place your family’s focus on the meaning of Good Friday.
There are lots of printable ones available online that can be colored and hung up around the house. Or this idea involves making a Montessori style Stations of the Cross in a box, using both images and some symbolic items that children can hold.
Here’s one that involves making small crosses, one for each station. We made ours similar to these. They are created from popsicle sticks and in grotto form. This is a Stations of the Cross paper bag book. You could make these with the kids so they each have their own.
I’ve got free printable Stations of the Cross if you simply want some that you can print out and hang up in your home for use tomorrow (or anytime!) Download them by clicking on the image below.Stations-of-the-Cross
There’s a German tradition of making Seven Herb soup on Maundy Thursday. These herbs are a sign of spring, but also can be easily tied to Passover and the Seder. The herbs are bitter until they’ve been cooked and so this works perfectly with the bitter herbs used in the Seder meal.
The number of herbs has been chosen to specifically reference the Seven Last Words of Jesus. If you don’t have those on hand, choose 7 vegetables/herbs that you do have on hand instead. You could have this for dinner tonight or serve it tomorrow.
On Good Friday, April 10, Pope Francis will celebrate the Passion of the Lord at 6 p.m. (Rome time) in the basilica. Later that evening, he will preside over the Way of the Cross on the steps of the basilica, overlooking the empty square.
Stripping of the Altar
Stripping of the altar is an ancient church custom. It is used to represent the way Jesus’ life was stripped away from Him. You could practice this at home too.
Begin by reading Psalm 22: 1-5. Remove everything from your home altar and pack it away. Wash the table. Leave bare or drape with a black cloth until Easter.
Stations of the Cross
You could virtually attend Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. The church in our diocese has been doing Stations of the Cross every Friday so if you can’t attend “live”, you could always watch one of the recordings.
Or there are plenty of other online Stations of the Cross videos and devotionals available.
Attend Eucharistic Adoration online. (you could also do this on Holy Saturday)
Explain the meaning to your children (if they’ve never attended before) and encourage them to at least spend a few minutes praying. Or, take turns with another adult in your home – each of you watches the kids while the other spends half an hour in Eucharistic Adoration.
Put on a puppet play.
Make puppets (even simple finger puppets or ones out of craft sticks or clothespins) and put on your own simplified passion play as a family.
Pope Francis will celebrate the Easter Vigil on April 11, at 9 p.m.(3 pm Eastern), at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter.
Attend a Virtual Easter Vigil Mass
You can attend a virtual Easter vigil Mass in my local diocese here but likely there are going to be many more available.
Color Easter eggs together!
This is a common tradition in many homes but we often don’t talk about WHY. Discuss the symbolism of the eggs (new life). You could even let the kids use crayons to put Easter designs (crosses for example) on before dyeing. It will work like a resist technique.
Make and serve sweet bread.
Making sweet breads during Holy Week and serving them on Easter Sunday is a common tradition in many countries. This braided Italian Easter Egg Loaf is delicious and makes for a pretty centerpiece too!
We like to make these the night before Easter. It’s a very visual way of representing Jesus’s death, burial, and then the empty tomb because He is risen.
Remember the loved ones no longer with you.
Light a candle at home or at church for each of your deceased family members to remember and pray for them. Children may find this even more meaningful if you tie it into the movie Coco.
Set up your home altar again.
Add your Bible, some flowers, a crucifix, and other items. A cheery table covering in contrast to the previously bare or black-draped table helps convey the joy of Jesus’ resurrection.
Make some noise.
Go out on your front porch and use some noisemakers (bang on some pots!) and yell Alleluia to celebrate that He is risen.
Learn an Easter song together.
Christ the Lord is Risen Today is a popular one. Other personal favorites are Because He Lives and Your Great Name. If you’ve got little kids, my daughter always loved to sing God’s Not Dead and Ho-Ho-Ho-Hosanna.
On Easter Sunday morning, April 12, Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord, in the basilica, and, at the end of Mass, he will impart his blessing “Urbi et Orbi”—to the city of Rome (“Urbi”) and to the world (“Orbi”).
Have a small sunrise service on Easter morning.
Head out to the backyard and welcome the sunrise and Jesus to your home and your day.
Wear new clothes on Easter.
This tradition comes from the tradition of new converts being given white robes to symbolize their new lives. When I was little, we all got brand new “fancy” outfits for Easter.
You might not have new clothes on hand but you could dress up (even though you’re staying home) for Easter Mass.
Serve 12 Fruits Salad.
This is a lovely option for Easter Sunday, symbolizing the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit. You can choose any 12 fruits you want, but these can be especially meaningful and symbolic:
- Apples – symbol of salvation
- Strawberries – symbol of righteousness
- Grapes – symbol of the Eucharist
- Blueberries – symbol of Our Lady
- Figs – symbol of fruitfulness
- Pears – symbol of Mary
- Oranges – symbol of purity
- Cherries – symbol of good works
- Peaches – symbol of rebirth
- Pomegranate seeds – symbol of the resurrection
- Pineapple – symbol of hospitality
- Lemon (use only the juice) – symbol of fidelity
Invite Jesus into your home.
You could set an empty place at your dinner table for Him. Or perhaps open your front door and gather the family to pray, welcoming Him in. It doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate. A simple symbolic action can be very meaningful.
Create an Alleluia banner.
Get a free printable banner here that your family can color and hang in the window.
Anytime During Holy Week
Loyola Press has a free printable Holy Week activity pack for kids that you can download.
Share a song each day during Holy Week. It can be one that you sing together or one you listen to together. You could even play appropriate music while riding in the car. I have a playlist of suggestions for Holy Week here. A perfect one for the little ones is God’s Not Dead. My daughter loved this one when she was young.
Each day, read about the events of Jesus’ last days before His death. Choose a good Easter book for kids and break it up into sections. Read just the appropriate section each day. You’ll find some good Lent and Easter book options here.
Pray every day using the events of Jesus’ last week to form the prayers. “Jesus, today we are reminded of you washing the feet of your disciples. Help us to serve others every day.”
Watch some Christian shows or movies together. Here is a list of some you can find on Netflix.
Do something nice for someone else. Skype or Facetime faraway family members to let them know you’re thinking of them. Email someone each day of this week with a message of love.
Pray the seven Penitential Psalms as a family.
This is a great thing to do during Holy Week. These Psalms are: Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143.