Creating Easter Traditions with your Children - By: Jody Capehart

Easter is the most important celebration of our faith; it is the very essence of what makes us Christian. Therefore, it is important that we find meaningful ways to celebrate its significance with our children to build a deeper level of understanding as they mature in their walk with the Lord.

When my children were young in the early 80s we began making “Holy Week Baskets” at home to celebrate Easter. We began to gather items that represented events from Holy Week. As we added each item, we would talk about it, look up the scriptures, and weave them together into the rich tapestry of Holy Week. I noticed how my children’s interest and knowledge grew and deepened as they became engaged in this interactive learning process each year.

As head of school, we began to make Holy Week Baskets at school. Later as minister to children, we made them at church. My children became my “Happy Helpers,” and during the month before Holy Week, we would gather the items, organize them, sort jelly beans by colors for the Jelly Bean Prayer, and prepare items so hundreds of children could create Holy Week Baskets. Sundays would find us taking around wagons over-flowing with items for little fingers to touch, and later teach others about the significance of what happened each day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.

 Building Traditions

It became our Easter tradition…as a family…in our school…and in our church. I saw children, parents, and teachers get excited each year and ask, “Are we going to make Holy Week Baskets this year?”   

As time went on, I began to teach about this tradition at school and church conferences. I wrote about this and the importance of establishing traditions in my book Cherishing and Challenging Your Children—almost 30 years ago! I am still doing them each Easter, now with my grandchildren, and also at church where I teach Sunday school.

Letting Older Children Be Helpers

When children get to about age nine or ten, the enthusiasm they had in previous years may turn to “Do I have to make a Holy Week Basket again this year?” Before you let this make you feel like a failure as a parent, realize that this is part of growing up. This is an opportunity to turn it into a positive! Respond with “I would love for you to be my helper. You are so good at creating and explaining the importance of the Holy Week Baskets. I need you to show the ‘little ones’ how to make them and what each item represents.” They love “being in charge” and this gets you through their transition time. Plus, there is no better way to learn anything than to teach it! Your children’s understanding continues to grow as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts through their words and actions when they help teach the little ones. Everyone is blessed.

Baskets Become Evangelistic Tools

The next question that might come up if you do them as a tradition in your family, church, or school is, “Well, I already have one from last year. Why am I making another one?”   Answer: “I am so glad you asked that question. This one can be for you to give to someone who doesn’t know Jesus. When you give it to them, you can tell them the story of Easter.” Thus, your Holy Week Basket becomes an excellent evangelism tool!

Holy Week Baskets can also be called “Resurrection Baskets,” as we have called them on some years. They make lovely centerpieces for you to give to Grandparents and other people in your family, especially those who may not know the Lord. It’s a joy for children to explain each item in the basket, much to the amazement of adults who have no idea what the Resurrection is all about. Some may assume Easter is just about bunnies. Those who have heard about Jesus might not understand the depth and glory of the Resurrection story. There is no better way to share the Gospel than through this Holy Week-Resurrection Basket!

How to Make Your Basket

If you are making them at home, you start with an empty Easter basket. If you are making them for your church or school, I suggest going to the grocery store and ask for strawberry containers. They are happy to donate them to you. I use pipe cleaners for handles. It helps with limited budgets.

Now, what goes in the baskets: I would vary them depending upon the ages of my children. For example, I would not put in a nail for younger children. I would add more items each year as they got older and had the developmental ability to understand abstract concepts, such as the curtain in the temple torn in half.

Teaching about Each Item

As you take each item out, teach your children about the significance of each one. Look up the scripture together from one of the Gospel accounts that goes from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection as a family or in your classroom. If you put them in a basket, add lots of grass as they make a lovely, as well as meaningful, centerpiece. Items may include:

  • ·         donkey and/or palm branch to represent Palm Sunday

  • ·         1" piece of towel: washing of feet; symbol of service

  • ·         unleavened bread and communion cup: to

  •           represent the Passover and Last Supper

  • ·         silver coins to represent Judas’s betrayal
              (I used play money from the Dollar Store)

  • ·         cross: made with popsicle sticks

  • ·         nail:  (only with older children please)

  • ·         rock: placed over the tomb where Jesus was buried

  • ·         scroll with a mini-gospel such as 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4, or
              John 3:16 (type the verse, copy, cut into strips, glue popsicle
              sticks on either side, roll each side to the center and you
              have a scroll)

  • ·         2" black cloth: world turned dark when Jesus was on the
              cross

  • ·         2" purple cloth: temple curtain torn in half when Jesus died

  • ·         2" linen cloth: shroud to wrap Jesus’ body

  • ·         grass: New life when you believe in Jesus

  • ·         cotton ball: Jesus will return through the clouds to gather all
              those who believe in Him (share the Gospel!)

Jelly Bean Prayer (I put the jelly beans in a baggie with a copy of this prayer.)

Click here for printable version

Attached is a booklet that goes in the basket. You may copy and fold it to put in the baskets to help the parents understand the significance of the items. It also provides scripture references for the items in the Holy Week Baskets.

As children mature, starting in about 3rd grade, I encourage them to read one of the GOSPEL accounts of Holy Week each year. For example:
                             3rd Grade:    Matthew
                             4th Grade:    Mark
                             5th Grade:    Luke
                             6th Grade:    John

Activities to challenge older children:

1.     Create a timeline of all the items in their Holy Week basket with corresponding scriptures from each of the gospels.

2.    Add items to represent each day of Holy Week. For example, what did Jesus do each day during that week? We tend to know what happened on Sunday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. But often the extraordinary teachings of Jesus that occurred on Monday and Tuesday get eclipsed by the profound events of the rest of the week. What was happening on Wednesday? Let your children be “Bible Detectives” and find out!  Have the children put items in their baskets as symbols from those teachings. For example:

Monday:  What could they put in their baskets to represent Jesus’ teaching about the Barren Fig Tree (Mark 11)?  What happened when Jesus went to the temple?

Tuesday and Wednesday:  What are some of the parables that Jesus taught? What did Jesus say is the “great commandment”?  Ask: “What can you put in your basket to represent the great commandment?”  (such as a heart for love)

Thursday:  What preparations were made for the Passover?  Why did Jesus wash the feet of the disciples?  Why is that meal referred to as the Lord’s Supper?  What did Jesus pray when He went to the garden?  Items for the basket, for example:

  • 1” towel to represent washing of feet

  • communion cup and piece of unleavened bread

  • praying hands

Friday:  Ask: what happened to Jesus? What items can you put in your basket to represent this day?  For example:

  • Cross

  • 1” purple cloth to represent temple curtain

  • 1” black cloth to represent 3 hours of darkness

Parents and teachers, may I encourage you to take time to find an activity that teaches the profound message of Easter and one you can build upon each year as your children grow older. You may want to bring out your Holy Week Basket from the previous year and review it with your children. A word to the wise: children love repetition when they are young. As they get older, they may begin to become cynical and say, "I already know that..." and not want to participate. Remember, this is a good time to invite them to be the helper and/or leader with the younger siblings or students.  Or if they are the youngest, I simply say that since the truth of this activity is so important to our faith, it is worth hearing it again. You may suggest that we might learn something new this year as we explore it together. I know I do each time I read the gospels! These meaningful memories become beautiful threads in the tapestry of our children's spiritual hearts. These windows of opportunities are worth every minute of the investment of our time and energy, as they reap rich dividends… for eternity.