Our Family’s Holy Week Practices

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As a pastor, preparations for church Holy Week services consume a lot of my time and head space right now.  As a mum, we have our own family practices that – because they are annual – we just naturally fall into.  I thought I would share some of our family practices here, in the hopes that you may gain some inspiration for your own home.

Signs and Symbols

Just like we decorate for Christmas, in our household we decorate for the other seasons in the Church Year (especially feast days and holy seasons like Advent, Lent, and Easter-tide).  I like there to be a consonance between the signs and symbols in the church, and the signs and symbols in our home.

We have an alcove that I guess you could call a home “altar” where we decorate for the Church season. Here’s what we have up for Lent:

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homealtar

I’ve collected our “signs and symbols” over the years – mostly from dollar stores and thrift stores, although some of the treasures are ones made by me and the kids.  The art is all pretty much from printable downloads from artists on Etsy.com.  I store our seasonal decorations in bins, just like we do our Christmas decorations.  Now that they are older, the kids help decorate, just like they do at Christmas.

I know my positive, affective associations with Christmas are shaped in part by the sights and smells and sounds I associate with that season.  I hope that in a very humble and gentle way, these signs and symbols from Lent and Holy week will be one more thing that ties our children’s affections to God, in that same way that the Transcendent sometimes impinges upon our consciousness through a piece of choral music, or a stained glass window, or a fiery sunset.

Food and Fellowship

As a child and teenager, I was always fascinated by the Jewish observances around food, and especially the linking of special foods with special Festivals. Once I became Chief Cook in our household, with power and authority over the menu, I began wondering about ways to tie in special foods with special season of the Church Year, noticing all of my own positive associations with special foods at Thanksgiving and at Christmas.

Turns out, there are already many historic associations with the Church year that I simply didn’t know about!

Maundy Thursday

In 10th century England, clergy used to hand out Pax cakes to their parishioners on Palm Sunday as an encouragement to extend peace to one another and to their neighbours.  I have found some traditional recipes, but they are a bit complicated for me.  So this is the one I use:

Pax Cakes Recipe

Beat one egg.
Add and beat until smooth:
1 cup sour milk or buttermilk
2 tablespoons salad oil (salad oil is any vegetable oil)
� cup whole wheat flour
� cup wheat germ
� cup white flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
� teaspoon soda
� salt

Grease a heated skillet or griddle. Pour batter from jug onto the hot griddle in 3 to 5 cm diameter dollops. Turn the pax cakes when bubbles show.

Heat on the second side until brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cinnamon may be added if desired. Makes 30-50 pax cakes.

Variation: Use 1 cup white flour, instead of combining whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and white flour.

Good Friday

On Good Friday, in the morning, we eat hot cross buns.  That is the first day we begin to enjoy them, and then continue eating the buns all through Eastertide.  One legend has it that 12th century English monk dreamed up these delicious treats as a way of honouring Good Friday, with the cross being the obvious symbol.

We also eat fish as our main meal that day.  This dates back to the the old traditions of fasting during Lent, which ranged from some kind of daily fasting, to fasting on certain days of the week, to fasting from meat on Fridays.  In some traditions, the diet for Holy week fasting (ie. one meal a day) was the xerophagiæ, which was a diet of dry food, bread, salt, and vegetables.  Fish was often allowed for the meal, as the fast excluded only flesh meat.

We haven’t practiced any kind of fast as a family, and this is mostly because I haven’t figured out how to meaningfully explain it to our children when they were younger, and because I myself get lightheaded and can’t work well without something for breakfast. But this year, our 12 year old understood the notion of “giving something up” for Lent for first time, as a meaningful spiritual exercise, so we might revisit it next year, and at least extend the practice to Fish Fridays in Lent.

Easter Sunday

A friend of mine taught me how to make pascha bread, and so that has become our Easter morning tradition. Unfortunately, since I leave the house at the crack of dawn, I don’t get to join the family in the meal; but I like that when our kids wake up, there are not just chocolate easter eggs waiting at the table for them, but a meal that is unique to the resurrection celebrations.

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Pascha bread

Lamb, a traditional food for Easter, doesn’t fit our budget, and anyways we are lucky in that my husband’s usually gathers this day, and so cooking is all taken care of.

Simnel cake is another lovely traditional food at Easter if you are baker (which I am not). It has marzipan balls representing the 12 disciples (minus Judas, which I guess makes only 11 marzipan balls!). If I felt equal to the task, we would eat Simnel cake on Easter Sunday or Monday.

Devotions and Worship

We do daily devotions at suppertime and during Lent have been doing the special devotional given out at our church.  But during Holy Week, we enter a special time of family reflections.  We have a Holy Week Egg tree devotional that we use, that I love because of the reflections and the visual reminders is offers:

eggtree

The artist is from Etsy, and is called Jesse Tree Treasures.  This was a birthday gift one year, as it is not cheap.

When the kids were younger, we used Resurrection Easter eggs, for Holy Week, which you can make or buy.

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Or, you can simply find a special devotional online to use in the home to mark this special week.  Here’s a simple one I found online this morning.

And, of course, worship with our faith community is an important part of this coming week.  For us, it means Palm Sunday as a family, Good Friday, the Easter Walk on Holy Saturday, and the big party on Easter Sunday.

Usually our kids go down for the kids’ program on Good Friday; just today our eldest asked if she could stay up with the adults.  She’s ready, I think.

Can’t believe how time flies!

Remember: there is no right or wrong way to mark this holy time in your home.  You know your family best!  Be creative.  And have fun with it!

St. Patrick’s Feast Day

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It’s March 17th, and bars around the world are serving green beer.

In our home, we are marking the day with our annual Irish coddle, a heart-clogging stew of potatoes, onions, bacon, sausage garlic and beef broth. It’s the only time we make it – in the hopes that the children will associate St. Patrick’s with this family meal in the same way I link turkey to Thanksgiving dinner. We are intentionally trying to build a family tradition.

coddle
It tastes and smells better than it looks.

And it’s a tradition that we are trying to create not so much because we are Irish (we are Irish in the same way that we are Scottish and English: barely).  We have made this celebration a family tradition because Patrick is a Christian saint whose story is inspiring and worth re-telling, year by year. Plus, it’s a party, and why shouldn’t religious things be associated with good food and good fun?

We celebrate the Church Year in our home, as a way of marking time other than by the school year calendar. I like the cyclical nature of the Church Year, with the holy seasons like Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter shaping our family practices, and the party days like St. Patrick’s giving us reasons for practicing hospitality and inviting over friends, and fellowshipping over a fine meal.

A feast for the eyes:

Just like we decorate our homes for Christmas, so we decorate our home for the different seasons of the Church Year.  This often includes Saints days like St. Patrick’s.

shamrock
The feast begins.

As much as possible, I like there to be consonance between the seasonal colours at church and in our home, so there is the visual carry over from worship in community, and our communal life at home.

Thrift stores and dollar stores are my best friends. Plus, small plastic bins for storing these treasures year to year.

Fun and Fellowship

When our children were younger, we would often play games associated with whatever gospel story or feast day we were celebrating. On St. Patrick’s day, for example, a very popular one was finding the dollar store plastic green coins Mike hid around the house, then exchanging them for the pot of gold (dessert).  We still eat gummy worms with our dessert in memory of the fanciful tale of St. Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes, but this year we skipped the treasure hunt. Nobody complained, which is a reliable sign that the time for that game has passed. This year, the older ones were more interested in joining in adult conversations, and that is pretty wonderful too.

The key thing? I want my children to have warm associations with their faith. I want these celebrations to provide them with a treasure trove of good memories, and memories that go deep because they are rich with familiar tastes, sights, sounds and stories.

The Stories We Tell

As part of our Feast day celebrations, we always take a moment to read the bible story of the event we are remembering, or read a storybook or watch a video of the person we are recalling.

Since I left our usual St. Patrick storybook at the office, we watched this video instead.

It held the attention of the tweens in the room, and was easy enough to follow for the younger ones. It also generated some good discussion, including our youngest wondering how Patrick knew it was God who spoke, and not just a strange dream because of something he ate. This prompted a little out-loud thinking about how God guides, and some suggestions as to why Patrick drew the conclusions he did. There was also some wondering about whether we would have readily gone back to the country that had enslaved us. Our son concluded that “It would have to be from God” for him to go, but if God said “go,” then he’d go.

Then we ate green jello and worms, which is often how these things end: with laughter and too much sugar.  Just like every good celebration.

Edited to add:  this photo from five years ago just showed up on my Facebook timeline.  What ridiculously cute kids, eh?  And, I see we were still eating green jello back then.

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Helping families celebrate Lent: Ready resources for busy pastors

celebratingseasons2We’re heading into the season of Lent. In the Church world, this usually means a menu of adult education options and special preaching series.

But what about families?  How do we encourage parents to keep a holy Lent in their homes?

When I worked as associate in Family Ministries, I always made sure we had special seasonal events for families. We gathered over a meal – usually on a Sunday – bringing all the generations together. After a short time of teaching, families then worked together on assembling a take-home project. The idea was they would work on the devotional or service project as a family during the Holy Season. The projects weren’t wildly original (think Advent Wreaths, Lenten Trees, Prayer projects and so on) but they did offer a resource and a reminder to parents that hey, we should be doing this seasonal journey with our kids, too.  

But maybe you are not on a multi-staff team, or you serve in a small church. Your volunteers are few, your time limited.

You can still do something.

Creative Communications is my go-to resource for affordable take-home activities for families when a special seasonal family event just isn’t in the cards. It does take planning as you have to order far enough in advance to ensure the resources arrive at your doorstep in time. Nevertheless it is a do-able undertaking for the pastor of a small parish.

We have a good amount of kids in our little church, but my portfolio is large and our volunteers stretched thin. We can’t do it all, but we are doing this much: tomorrow, every family is looking forward to receiving a take-home resource for Lent.

You can find them here:  http://www.creativecommunications.com/

(And no, I didn’t get paid to write this recommendation!)

EDITED TO ADD: shipping costs add up.  I tend to order Advent, Lent and any other resources for feast days at the same time.  If you only have a a couple of families in your church, it may be worth doing a joint order with other local churches to spread the pain of shipping expenses.