Written by: Amanda Winsor
When Mandy asked me to write a post about how my family celebrates Jesus through the observance of the Lenten Season, it got me thinking about the types of traditions and the culture of faith that my husband and I have established in our home, and how different it is from the way we both learned about events like Easter and Christmas when we were growing up.
While my parents certainly established different family traditions that I still cherish and remember vividly, neither me nor my husband ever celebrated Advent beyond the cardboard chocolate-filled calendars that were actually Santa-themed Christmas countdown tools. Ash Wednesday and Lent was simply not a thing for either of us growing up. And any time I mentioned it, my parents said very little besides “Uhhhhhhhh…I’m not really sure. That’s a Catholic thing. We don’t do that.” Given my mom’s enthusiasm for tradition and celebrations of all kinds, I now find this odd. However it is worth mentioning that after lots of conversations with other people around my age I have come to realize that the absence of Advent and Lent was, for better or for worse, the type of experience that most protestant children can relate to.
Today, it makes me sad that such rich traditions of preparation for the two most high-profile days of our faith, Christmas and Easter, are basically absent from many Christian homes.
My husband and I share a similar story: He was brought up attending a Penetcostal chruch, had Pentecostal parents, and lived in a town where the Pentecostals, the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, and the Salvation Army church members saw each other from a distance, may even have acknowledged one another with a cursory nod or smile, but at that time they weren’t exactly collaborating or celebrating their commonalities and mutual love of Jesus on anything like a regular basis. Each denomination had traditions and different ways of loving God, but it seemed almost as though they had the monopoly on those things; as if Pentecostals were somehow prohibited from making Advent wreaths and Roman Catholics were incapable of unstructured prayer. (I know, right?)
As for myself, I was raised by a Baptist-turned-Pentecostal mother and a United Baptist father who brought my sister and me to a Wesleyan church until I was 12 years old, and then started taking us to a Pentecostal church when we were teenagers. We would attend the United Baptist church in my father’s hometown occasionally (where I do remember seeing an Advent wreath at one point), and I was vaguely aware that there were other types of churches out there, but as far as I knew the Wesleyans were doing a pretty good job loving Jesus, the Pentecostals were probably doing it a little bit better, and the rest of the Christians do their best, but we should pray for them. Without ceasing. Especially for Roman Catholics.
These days my husband and I attend a Wesleyan church with our three children. It’s not perfect (no church or denomination is) but we have community there among others who love people and love Jesus. Most of the time, that’s all we need. At the end of the day, we can’t really label ourselves as anything other than Jesus-lovers. We can and do embrace any value, tradition, practice, and worship style that leads us to the feet of Jesus. This is where we strive to be. We search for and hold tightly to anything that reminds us that it’s all about Him. It can, and often does, mean that our “domestic church” looks a lot different than it used to. Here is how that happened:
After the birth of our third child in 2012 we chose to postpone my return to work and have me stay at home with our children for an additional year after my maternity benefits ran out. During that time as a stay-at-home mom, I was welcomed into an online community of mothers, some of whom I knew fairly well and others whom I had never met in real life. There are 17 of us; 16 are practicing Roman Catholics and one of us is me (Rogue Jesus-Lover). I affectionately refer to these women as “my Catholics”. They don’t seem to mind this, and often refer to me as “their Proddy” (short for Protestant). It works, and as a result we have all learned a lot from one another in one of the most open, loving, and respectful online forums it has ever been my privilege to be part of. One result of my friendship with these women is that it inevitably started to dawn on me that Catholic families practice, as a community, a whole lot of stuff that Protestants generally do not. And I am here to tell you that much of it is pretty awesome. Like teaching kids the Catechism, for instance (and before you tune out, you need to know something: Protestants have a catechism. Yeah, we do. You can check it out HERE! Yes, it’s awesome. Yes, you should order one. YES, you should teach it to your children. No, you will not regret it.) Catholics also observe lots of fun things called Feast Days. While my knowledge of a great many things Catholic has grown exponentially over the past two years, I still don’t know a lot about Feasts. From what I gather, if you will allow me this short tangent, Feast Days seem to be mostly a celebration of a historical person whose life ultimately points others to Jesus. I’m all kinds of in love with that idea. I also enjoy the fact that feast days also seem to involve cake. Mmmmmmmmm, cake…
So, anyhow. Back to the reason Mandy asked me to share with you here (I’m getting there, I promise!):
This is Holy Week. The last 7 days of the Lenten Season. The most historically and spiritually significant week of the period of time in which we prepare our hearts to acknowledge receipt of the greatest God-given gift to humankind in the history of Creation: the life, death, and resurrection of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. It’s kind of a big deal.
My family’s decision to embrace the observance of Lent is due, almost completely, to the influence of my Catholics. Most members of our Christian community do not observe this season, but I have come to believe that this is mainly due to the fact that they have no idea how incredible it can be! Many of the ideas I will share with you here have been shamelessly stolen from my Catholics. Some are my own. Lots are from Pinterest. I am positive that even if you know nothing about Lent at this point, as long as you love Jesus, there is a Lenten tradition out there for you! My hope is that your take-away from my post will be that this is an amazing opportunity to establish rich, beautiful, fun, Christ-centered traditions in your domestic church that will hopefully help you lead your people to the feet of Jesus. This is all about Him!
The first thing I do when I begin to prepare for the Lenten season is brainstorm family goals. My husband and I have chosen to encourage the increase of at least one POSITIVE behavior (such as less arguing with a sibling, or more initiative in helping around the house), as opposed to asking our very young children to give something up, or make a traditional sacrifice of some sort. In other words, we like the idea of less arguing, more chores being done, and still being able to use screen time as a reward after a long day. This year we decided that our eldest would make every effort to stop arguing with others, our second child would focus on waiting his turn and not interrupting, Daddy would endeavor to be home for dinner more often, Mommy would try to exercise more patience, and our youngest, at just under 2.5, is exempt at this point. We gave our two eldest a small jar to keep on a shelf, and whenever they demonstrate the positive behavior we set as their goal, they are given a bean to put in their jar. When they wake up on Easter morning these beans will have been replaced with jelly beans.
We also have a countdown calendar of sorts, which I got from the very helpful blog, Catholic Icing. This year I printed it off, mounted it onto a piece of cardboard, colored it, and each day the boys take turns marking off the days with a purple Bingo dauber.
We have also been working on a chain made out of purple pieces of paper. Each night at dinnertime we take a link, write down something we are thankful for, and then attach the new link to our chain. By Easter it will be long enough to use as a garland to decorate our mantle.
We also have a Mason jar filled with soil that we have planted grass seeds in. The two eldest kids are responsible for watering it and keeping it in the sunlight. We have discussed that seeds are like our faith in Jesus and that if we don’t care for them, nurture them, and feed them they won’t grow. We made a cross out of Popsicle sticks and stuck it into the soil to make it look more “Easter-y”. Last year when we did this activity we used two jars of seeds and on Easter morning the boys discovered that, along with a jar full of thick, green, healthy grass, their Popsicle stick crosses were now decorated with purple garlands declaring the Resurrection.
We celebrate the feast of St. Patrick by wearing green, having a small foil-wrapped chocolate coin hunt, and learning about St. Patrick through story-telling and possibly a craft of some sort. The account we use tells the story of a boy who, when he was about 16, was captured by Irish pirates from his home in Britain, and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland to share the Gospel with his former captors. St. Patrick is a perfect example of one of the most important charges Christ makes to His followers: “But I say to you, love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
During the Lenten Season I try to make a concentrated effort to teach my boys some new worship songs, Bible verses, prayers, and portions of the Catechism. Some of our favorite songs for this time of year are Man of Sorrows by Hillsong Live, I Have Decided by Elevation Worship, In Christ Alone by Adrienne Liesching, and New Again by Brad Paisley and Sarah Evans. Last year we learned The Lord’s Prayer by memory and this year we are working on the Apostle’s Creed and the first section of the catechism. We also read Easter-themed books, Bible stories, and try to focus our conversations on the fact that Easter is all about Jesus and His gift to us. Even the Easter Bunny can point us to Jesus: He gives us small gifts because he loves us and wants to remind us that Jesus loved us enough to give us the greatest gift of all, Salvation.
We decorate the main living area of our domestic church with some Lenten-themed items: some white candles with purple ribbons tied on, a framed reminder that Lent is a time to be fair, to forgive, to share, to pray, and to listen, a beautiful Ukrainian egg, a plaque of the Holy Family, and usually some flowers or a jar of pussy-willows to remind us that Spring will come again one day soon!
On Holy Thursday we will be making this craft and afterwards I will read the Easter story to the boys while they use the craft pieces to re-enact the events. This is always highly entertaining! We then use the craft to decorate our living area. The thing I love about this craft is that it evolves along with the Easter story. So on Good Friday you can arrange it to depict the events of that day. On Saturday Jesus can be found inside the tomb, and on Easter morning our tomb is empty and the angels are rejoicing!
On Good Friday we attend church, and afterwards we eat brunch with friends. For us, homemade hot cross buns are an absolute must! We make an effort to convey the gravity of Christ’s sacrifice for us and while we don’t stifle or actively discourage boisterous behavior, we do try to encourage a reflective and reverent tone throughout the course of the day.
On Easter Sunday morning we meet upstairs in the big bed for a minute to pray and thank Jesus for the sacrifice and miracle of the Easter season and we ask Him to help us keep this in the forefront of our hearts and minds throughout the day. This is followed by an egg hunt for the kids which leads to their Easter baskets where they will find their jar of grass seeds decorated with a purple paper banner that declares, “Alleluia! He is risen!”, a new book each, a modest amount of candy, and one or two small gifts from their grandparents (sidewalk chalk, bubbles, or maybe a new top or dress). My husband and I usually set up their Holy Thursday craft as well, and have hung the paper garland with our gratitude written on each link. Sometimes we buy a small bouquet of flowers for the table, and light some candles as well. Anything to make things feel special and festive. We make a special kid-request breakfast and listen to resurrection-themed music. We sing, we dance, and we celebrate loudly the fact that Jesus is alive!! After breakfast we attend church (my absolute favorite Sunday of the year!) and then spend the remainder of the day with extended family. We greet those we meet with a hearty “He is Risen!!” and reply with “He is risen indeed!”
And that concludes our observance of Lent and Easter! It’s kid-friendly, mommy-friendly, simple, meaningful, and Christ-centered. Our traditions work for our family and they bring us a lot of joy. They point us to Jesus, and remind us that this is all about Him.
My prayer for you is that as you prepare your heart for this coming weekend that you will also catch some of the excitement and joy that motivated my husband and I to find meaningful ways to help our children connect with Jesus during the Lenten Season. Traditions are at their best when they help us connect with something bigger than we are. No one denomination can own a tradition or practice and I would encourage you to explore the many rich and beautiful ways in which Jesus-lovers of all denominations celebrate Him in their lives and to find simple ways to incorporate some of them into the liturgy of your own domestic church.
Hello, Lovelies! My name is Amanda. I am a joyously married mother of three, and I work in public education in Nova Scotia. I like my sacraments Protestant, my traditions Catholic, my liturgy ecumenical, my wine red, and my coffee strong. I love people, and I love Jesus from whom all blessings, grace, and truth flow.