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:
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!