Recently I read a post by a young mom asking for advice on what she should give her toddler for Easter. She wrote that she didn’t want to go overboard like she had last year, but then she went on name a long list of things she had already purchased, and was obviously looking for ideas for more. I was rather astounded, actually. When did Easter become a second Christmas? What is it that we are teaching our children by showering them with toys several times a year? Or is this just another way advertisers have brainwashed us to spend our money on their products?
Why You Celebrate Easter
First off, I’d like to ask, if you are not a Christian family, why are you celebrating Easter? And secondly, if you are a religious family, what do you want your child to learn about this holy day? Easter is God’s ultimate gift to us, the gift of His Son, who died for us. The words are common enough. You see them, read them, sing them, and hear them all through the year. But what we ought to reflect upon is that actually… we were supposed to die! That is our punishment for sin. Eternal death! But God loves us, so He sent His only begotten son Jesus to suffer a horrible death in our place. Now our bodies will age and eventually die, but we will rise from the dead, body and soul, to live forever in the presence of God.
Easter is not about the Easter bunny, or jelly beans or bird eggs or new dresses, or tricycles or chocolates or stuffed toys or candy. It is the time that we should teach our children about sin and forgiveness, about worship and celebration and joy. Getting them wound up on a sugar high is almost guaranteed to have a cranky whiny self-centered child that you may have to discipline or send to bed early.
Our Family Easter Traditions
When my children were young, we kept Easter as a holy, religious holiday. We had our traditions, which the kids knew and looked forward to. They did get new outfits, special “Easter” clothes to wear to church, which they wore on Palm Sunday and Easter. I always believed in dressing children up for church. Not to show off to others how beautiful my kids were, but as a sign of respect to God. Remember how upset so many people got when a high school girl wore flip-flops to see the President? She hadn’t thought she’d done anything wrong, but the office of the Presidency commands a certain respect, even if we have a president we’re not particularly fond of at the time. If we don’t show respect to a judge in a courtroom, we can be put in jail. We should show respect to our elders, our employer, and even our neighbors. As far as I’m concerned, the real three “r’s” our children should learn are NOT reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but respect, resourcefulness, and responsibility.
So starting the night before Palm Sunday, the kids all had baths. They polished up their shoes, laid out their new outfits, and because we are Catholic, they also went to confession when they had reached a certain age. Then in the morning we’d get all dressed up in our finest and attend church together. We always attended church; it wasn’t just something we did on holidays. But after Mass, we would return home for a big family brunch. Our menu might have varied, but was usually something like bacon, sausage muffins, hashbrowns, hardboiled and dyed Easter eggs, chocolates and Champagne (adults only).
Then in the afternoon, we would do something nice and appropriate as a family. We might visit an animal park or zoo, or good friends. One year it was cold and rainy, so we just played games together. When we lived in Oklahoma, we almost certainly went to Woolaroc.
Then came Holy Week. My husband sang in the choir, so I’d sit in the pews with the children on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil Mass, and then Easter morning. It was a lot of church for youngsters, but they did learn how very important these holy days are. We encouraged them to give up something for Lent, although children under the age of 13 are not required to fast. Often they would chose to give up soda or chocolate, so both would be served at the Easter brunch. The concept is to teach them about sacrifice. How hard it is to give up something we want – like how Jesus gave up His life! Then when they would really crave that thing they gave up – when they’d see a chocolate bar at the grocery store and they really wanted it – it would remind us to pray, and remember God.
Our Family Easter Egg Hung
When my youngest child turned three, we decided to attend the community Easter Egg hunt. I had never done anything with Easter eggs before, although the children always colored eggs for an art project. But for some reason I thought this might be a fun activity. So we drove to the park exactly at the advertised time, only to find that it was all over. They had scattered several hundred candy-filled plastic eggs, but had so many children show up that they started a minute early and it lasted exactly a minute. My youngest was in tears. One volunteer handed me a garbage bag full of empty plastic eggs and apologized. I ran to the grocery store, bought a few bags of candies, and took my brood back home. We filled the eggs together, and then I hid them in the back yard and let them all hunt for them. Ever since, it has also become a family tradition. The Easter Egg hunt can still be a learning activity, if we teach our children that we should always seek God in our daily lives.
I never gave my children a gift at Easter, other than the small basket of candy. And they only got enough candy that they could eat in a day or two. They grew up knowing that I loved them, and that God loves them. And that is the best gift a parent can ever give their child.