Teaching Children about Easter
Can kids comprehend the cross?
American Family Association Journal
Except for a few details such as being “with child from the Holy Spirit,” children don’t seem to have much problem understanding the Christmas story. God came to earth as a baby. His mother was Mary; his earthy father, Joseph. They had traveled a long way and were sleeping in a barn the night He was born. The good guys, like the shepherds and the wise men, celebrated His birth, but others did not.
Compare that story with the 33-year-old Jesus voluntarily traveling to Jerusalem, celebrating Passover, staying silent before His accusers, being flogged, beaten, spat upon, having a crown of thorns forced onto His head, carrying the instrument of His homicide, nailed to a rough, wooden cross, and suffering for six hours until He died. Easter is difficult to explain and understand for adults, but much more so for children.
It is here that traditions can help families explain the tragedy and hope of Easter. Using tactile items to tell the story of Easter helps children understand the events on a level appropriate for their sensitivity and maturity. It also leaves room for their understanding to grow through the years. On top of that, new traditions help families mark, remember, and celebrate the most important of holy days in Christendom.
The ubiquitous plastic eggs have become synonymous with the Easter season. This has led some families to create a new tradition that embraces them but also points away from the commercialization of Easter and toward the reason we celebrate.
Parents get children to help them create or find items that go inside the eggs to symbolize the events of Easter. Most limit the items to 12 so the eggs can be kept in a common egg carton.
Families choose different symbols including: a cracker to symbolize the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26), silver coins (Matthew 26:14-16), a piece of leather or rope (John 19:1), a twig of thorns (Matthew 27:29), a cross (19:16-17), a large nail (John 19:18), a sign reading “King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38), a sponge (Matthew 27:48), a spear (John 19:34), cloves or spices (Luke 24:1), a rock (Matthew 27:59-60), and a white piece of linen (John 20:7). The last egg is left empty to show that Jesus left the tomb on the third day.
No matter what items are chosen, it is important to include a Scripture reference inside each egg. This will also help children see Scripture as living, breathing, and applicable rather than dry and boring.
Building on the idea of gathering items that symbolize Easter, many families build a Resurrection Tree. The tree is unique in that it takes families from Creation to Jesus’ resurrection. Some families take 30 days to decorate the tree and spend a few minutes each day leading up to Resurrection Sunday to read Scripture and create ornaments. (See sidebar below.)
On the first day, parents read Genesis 1-2 and children place an ornament that resembles earth on the tree. That ornament can be papier-mâché or a colored balloon. On day seven, families can read Genesis 37, 40-46 (or excerpts from those chapters) and place an ornament symbolizing Joseph’s coat of many colors. On day eight, a lamb is placed on a branch while reading Exodus 12, the story of the Passover. This is a perfect time to discuss how the Passover is a foreshadowing of Easter. Families continue working their way through God’s story of redemption to its culmination in the resurrection.
But the Resurrection Tree doesn’t have to take 30 days. Some families make one ornament for every week of Lent. (See sidebar.) Others choose to make only four ornaments the first year, carefully explaining each symbol. They add a few more the next year and further explain the ramifications of Easter to their children.
Messianic Jewish congregations possess a great way of teaching that the gospel did not begin in the New Testament but was in God’s plan from the very beginning. They celebrate Passover with a Seder meal, and some choose to end the dinner with Communion.
The Seder meal consists of many elements including the washing of hands, a time during which children ask four questions and are answered by the leader of the Seder meal, the hiding and finding of the Afkomen (unleavened bread), the four cups of wine that involve a reading and response filled with history and Scripture, the partaking of the Seder plate consisting of Karpas (greens), Beltzah (a boiled egg), Maror (a bitter herb), Charoset (a sweet mixture of chopped apples, nuts, honey, and cinnamon), and the shank bone of a lamb.
Every aspect of the Seder meal has a powerful, symbolic meaning. That meaning is amplified when viewed through the lens of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. The Seder meal is a tradition thousands of years in the making and will bring extra meaning to your family’s Easter celebration.
Easter is certainly difficult to explain and hard to understand, especially for children. However, it can also be the most celebratory, meaningful, and maturing seasons in a Christian child’s life. These traditions, and many others like them, will ensure that your children remember that Easter isn’t about new clothes, candy, and an oversized bunny. It is about the Creator of the Universe clothing Himself in flesh and offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Whatever traditions you choose to establish, make sure they will be remembered, treasured, and repeated.
Lent – This year, Lent began on February 18, Ash Wednesday. Although the Lenten season is almost complete, it isn’t too late to prepare your family for Easter through this traditional time marked by self-examination, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and repentance.
Here are some ideas for Lent to help you get started.
- Practice self-denial. Give up something important to you. A few examples include withholding food for one meal a day, giving up coffee or tea, abstaining from television, or choosing to read only Scripture.
- Serve those around you. Make a special effort to follow Jesus’s life of service by finding families in your community to bless, or by making a sacrificial gift to a gospel ministry.
- Make pretzels. Pretzels are a traditional Lenten food symbolizing arms crossed in prayer. Making pretzels is a memorable way to include children in the Lenten season.
- Prepare your heart. Like an annual physical exam, use this time to access your relationship with Christ. Pray through the verses of Psalm 51 and meditate on it daily.
- Begin a focused family Bible time. If your family is not in the habit of studying Scripture together, Lent is a great time to begin. The Easter story found in Mark 14-16 is an appropriate passage.
New Easter traditions
Resurrection Eggs kit
Seder Meal Resources
Full copy of a Haggadah
How to make an Easter Garden
How and why to celebrate the 40 days Jesus stayed on earth after His resurrection
40-day journey to Easter