These simple ways to observe Holy Week with children will give you some ideas of how to share the greatest gift ever given with your family.
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. This is my favorite week of the year. I realize that to some people that sounds odd. They much prefer Christmas because it’s so cheery. Holy Week includes the crucifixion of Jesus and that’s just too darn depressing. But really, if you think of Christmas as a time to receive the gift of Jesus’ birth, the gift of the cross is just so much bigger, isn’t it? He came to earth and that’s wonderful. He gave His life for us. That’s just too awe-inspiring a gift for words.
It can also be an overwhelming message for young children. So, it’s important to pick and choose those activities that suit your family. As always, I also think it’s important not to complicate the message by trying to go all “Pinterest-ish” with it. Five or ten minutes spent snuggling together each day, sharing a Holy Week story, and a short age-appropriate prayer each day will show your children that this is a special week. Then, as time, energy, and motivation permits, you can add in some more. Or not. Keep it simple and focus on the important message of the week.
Simple Ways to Observe Holy Week with Children
***Items marked this way indicate those activities that take the least amount of planning and time. Most of these can be done in under 15 minutes.
***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.”
***Fast. Let the children know that you are all giving up (or cutting down) on something as a reminder of Jesus giving up His life for us. This could be serving simpler, smaller meals or giving up treats until Easter or cutting down/giving up television, and so on.
***Watch some Christian shows or movies together. Here is a list of some you can find on Netflix.
***Do something nice for someone else. Go grocery shopping and buy a complete Easter dinner for another family. Or you could stock up on Easter treats at the dollar store and donate them to the local women’s or homeless shelter. Another option would be to break out the crayons and construction paper and make a bunch of Happy Easter cards for people in a nursing home or hospital. Or do something nice for another member of the family each day this week (do one of their chores, for example). 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.
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.
***Plant some fast-growing seeds at the beginning of the week. Watch them sprout and grow throughout Holy Week. Talk about the message of new life this demonstrates.
Make or print off some kid-friendly Stations of the Cross to share together as a family. Or, you could make or buy Resurrection Eggs.
Color Easter eggs together and decorate them with Holy Week themes. You could draw on them with crayons to create a resist technique or add stickers to them after they are dry.
Visit a local garden or even a garden center. Share the story of the garden of Gethsemane as you wander through. If at a garden center, you might even let each child pick out a small plant to care for at home.
Attend a passion play. Be conscious of ages and personalities when choosing this activity as it can be too overwhelming for young or especially sensitive children.
***Watch the sunrise together on Easter morning or attend a sunrise service if there’s one in your town.
***On Good Friday, 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.
Have a Passover Seder. 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.
***On Maundy Thursday, do a foot washing with your family. Tell the story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.
***With older children, it can be really powerful to hand each one a large nail. Attend Good Friday service or have one at home (even just read a small section of an Easter storybook) while holding these nails. This can be a really powerful experience.
Gather together as a family to renew your baptismal vows. You can even get holy water from your church and each person can make the sign of the cross with water too. Or family members can “anoint” each other with the holy water.
***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.
If you live near a large art museum, visit one together and check out the Christian themed artwork there. This can be an especially meaningful experience if your museum has pieces depicting the passion of Christ.
***Wednesday of Holy Week 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 give away to charity.
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.
Bake pretzels together. They are a symbol of the Holy Trinity and arms crossed in prayer. Here’s my recipe for soft pretzels.
***Honor the events being commemorated on Good Friday by having a quieter, more low-key day than usual. If a full day is overwhelming, try for half a day or even an hour. This could involve unplugging from technology and spending that time together as a family perhaps making appropriate crafts or recipes (as suggested above), going for a walk, and so on.
***Invite Jesus into your home on Easter Sunday. 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.
Whatever way you choose to observe Holy Week with your family, from my family to yours, a very happy Easter!