Dear Auntie Leila,
I don't know what to do for Easter. Seriously. I'm flummoxed.
I finally understand Lent, and being the type of person who won't do something unless I understand the why behind it and think it's a good one, that's saying something, arrogant though that may be. (I prefer to think of it as curiosity combined with an intolerance of the ridiculous.)
So we're keeping Lent, in our own way, with reading and talking and putting the whole story in context of the grander story that it fulfills. But Easter Sunday... well, I don't like egg hunts, because that gets so confused with a certain rabbit... and our church doesn't do much that's different. I want to create an occasion, as memorable and joyous as the event it remembers requires, but I'm stumped.
(We've always made a big deal out of passover before and the fulfillment, which is why I'm not all that prepared.) I remember you talking about this once, I think.
Do you have any ideas that could be executed on sort notice?
Carrien, this post is for you and all the other folks out there who are figuring things out as we go along (the rest of you give thanks that you have a collective memory to fall back on.)
It's funny how activities that are meant to recover traditions or enhance celebrations have ended up usurping the traditions and celebrations themselves, at least where high-octane parents meet intensive projects. Not to say frighten tired mothers off completely.
But it's not necessary. I just don't think children learn the way adults do, or the way most adults seem to think children learn. They don't really extrapolate from the specific to the general, or the particular to the abstract. A child doesn't necessarily do an Easter craft and connect it to Easter.
Very often, with those of us who are figuring this all out as we go along, this activity is just one more random idea an adult has come up with! And if the project or activity is cartoonish or ugly or trivial, you can be sure that it's those attributes, not the abstraction behind them, that the child associates with the event.
No one gives their children cartoon versions of Shakespeare (at least, I hope not -- don't tell me if they do, okay?), and so most, even those with little education, grow up to associate Shakespeare with all that is noble, uplifting, and mysteriously excellent. They may never have read any of his plays or seen them performed, but if ever given the chance, they would not be confused as to their merit or claim on what is highest in the human spirit. Ironically, they may reject Shakespeare out of a reverse snobbery (or defensiveness at their confusion), but if that's the worst that happens, well, at least something precious hasn't been debased in their minds.
Can we well meaning educators of our children's souls say the same about all that relates to religion?
So yes, you have to be careful about what you do with your kids at the holidays. They are holy days. Let's live them, not make them "occasions" out of any manufacturing process of our own.
The celebration of these holy days will have two aspects. The first arises right out of the liturgical expression of each feast. The second arises out of the human desire, baptized with Christ's incarnation (His taking on of human nature, thus sanctifying it), to bring the celebration into the material realm, often exuberantly so, but never with ugliness or essential unfittingness. Fun, yes. Nature, yes. Traditions, yes. Projects, no. Cartoons, no.
So I would say that fortunately, dear Carrien, your lack of time to prepare will increase the likelihood that you will do what is most directly related to the celebration! No need to get fancy or complicated! To take my two points together as they occur:
I don't know what church you go to, but I do know that my Catholic faith, if I pay close attention to it, will lead me to the right spot, celebration-wise, with just enough time left over to prepare the right meals. If we've been living Lent by following the readings at Mass, then we've been building up to a strong awareness of how very much we need -- and do not earn -- the Redemption. Our very attempts at fasting, almsgiving, and prayer have fallen short enough to convince us of this reality.
Not only the readings, but the covering of the statues and crucifixes, the music with its somber simplicity, the bareness of the sanctuary, all have brought us to a longing, with all of Israel, with the whole world and all its sad emptiness, for the Messiah.
After these weeks, at last, on Holy Thursday, we go to the Mass of the Last Supper in the evening. On this night Jesus instituted the priesthood and the Eucharist -- Ordination of the "other Christs" -- His apostles -- who will establish the Church and the feeding of God's children with His own Body and Blood.
This year is the year for you to begin your life's work of absorbing the whole meaning of this night of Gift and Betrayal at the same time that you pass it on to your children. This is the Lord's very own historical Passover celebration, the one He so wanted to share with us. Hence, we do not have a seder or any other commemoration in our family.
It's a feast -- what else would you do but come home and eat a marvelous meal together -- for us it must include lamb but still reflect the fact that we are only at the start of the Triduum.
So I make kofta (lamb meatballs) and other middle-eastern dishes. (Easter, like Christmas, is a good time to bring any ethnic heritage or traditions into your own family. Make what is specific to your own background, even if you have to dig it up or make it up or, like me, mix it up!) Try to keep it simple (I keep repeating) because it's a busy day of getting the house cleaned up and your preparations well in hand. But do make it special to your own family. A nice dessert, a beautiful, unforced conversation about the events of the Mass, which might have included foot-washing (you can see why it should be for men only, being about the priesthood, but has implications for all the baptized) -- so simple, no activities necessary, unless you count the family activity of shelling the pistachios for the Easter pastry!
Good Friday. This is a day of serious fasting. We have our Hot Cross Buns (with cheese or peanut butter for those of us who will collapse if we don't get our protein, and some tuna for lunch). A quiet day of work in the morning for Papa and reading and cleaning up for the rest of us. This is a good day for getting eggs ready for dyeing -- a meditative and lovely craft that conjures a beautiful association with new life and beauty. In this area I admit our family has taken things to the limit of complicatedness, due to the influence of creative grandmothers (read about our Pysanki traditions here). But no need to be so involved. For young children, simple colors and designs are best and quite satisfying.
In the afternoon we go to the Mass of the Presanctified, which includes the Veneration of the Cross. This is a long service (maybe too long for toddlers, and that is fine -- Papa can take the older children while Mama and babies nap) that makes us hungry for our supper, a simple meal of mujadara (made with cracked wheat, not rice) and maybe an eggplant dish on the side. Everyone is so tired from fasting (and probably traveling, for our older kids) that it's early to bed.
On Saturday, there is no Mass. Christ is in His tomb. There is the stillness of the "in-between-ness" -- the time that has no time in it. Children color eggs and do their chores or help Mama with tomorrow's baking, since all the most wonderful foods are going to be put out. Clothes are ironed, dresses are finished, shoes are polished, yard work is tackled, the table is set, children are sent outside to play. A simple supper of spinach lasagna and antipasto, or maybe a refrigerator-clearing soup, and a rest before the Vigil.
Easter. If you can do it, go to the Vigil Mass -- the first Mass of Easter that begins sometime after sundown, often at midnight or later. (If you can't because of babies, that's fine. The Mass of Easter Day is glorious!). This Mass begins in darkness, and the Light of Christ is gradually revealed.
I urge you to find the church that celebrates this (and all liturgies) without either a lack of reverence or self-consciousness and pompous self-reference. The more other-directed, the better. It's hard to put into words what you are looking for in authentic celebration of the liturgy, and unfortunately there is a lot of confusion out there, but children know when they are being made to appreciate something (or laughing at what they are disposed to reverence), as opposed to merely experiencing it. Adults unfortunately are all too susceptible to pandering....
We must, as a Church, as a culture, recover the reliance on authentic experience and tradition to do its work. We must not be hasty or impatient. We must accept that time and repetition alone (not innovation) will accomplish in us and in our loved ones the desired effects. Endless talking and explaining are counterproductive.
Something that children remember forever is what they eat when they come home late at night after the Easter Vigil (also at Christmas). We have meat pies and it's possible that the Easter candy gets broken into....then off to bed!
Anyway, having lived through the Vigil or the morning Mass, we are struck with amazement:
The strife is o'er!
And now, pure celebration! Why not Easter baskets full of goodies? In our family, we've always hunted for the baskets in the house (as they've grown up, they've hidden them for each other, often devilishly well), because our climate is not conducive to an outdoor Easter-egg hunt, although some do observe that tradition also. To me, it's too muddy, cold, and damp -- and I'm too tired out from all the rest of it. But -- If you want to do it, do it! If you don't, don't! But do have a day of feasting, of goodies, of laughter, of games, of visiting, of relaxing, of whatever is enjoyable and good. A walk around the reservoir to work up your dessert appetite? A soccer game between families? Don't feel that others are doing more than you if you are enjoying each others' company!
The solemnity (feast day) of Easter lasts eight full days -- no fasting allowed! And of course continues right up until Pentecost.
Over the years, after your family lives this art of fasting, worship, and celebration in its simplest, most essential form, you will begin to see the wisdom of tradition.
But, but! Does this not feel important enough? Ah, that's all right. Trust...
This is how mankind has ever held feasts. No one gets "taught" the meaning of Easter all at once. There's nothing more to "do" than to live it! Don't imagine that a proper celebration is more than that! Make the liturgy the center, and all will radiate out from it! It's all good!
Other than the links above, here are more posts about Easter and Holy Week:
Holy Thursday foods
Basking in the Triduum
What our family eats for Easter