Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Activities for a Christ-Centered Easter

This week I discovered a goldmine in an old wedding gift, heretofore neglected on the bookcase I'm embarrassed to say.  Gifted to us by the authors (and family friends), Janet and Joe Hales, A Christ-Centered Easter: Day-by-Day Activities to Celebrate Easter Week contains a wealth of ideas for honoring Easter with the grace it deserves.

To reap the real benefits of this resource, you should just add it to your collection!  But perhaps even from what I share, you will find some new Easter traditions to establish with your family.  We certainly have.  The book includes several different sections:

The preface explains how the Hales family molded their Easter observance to whole-heartedly celebrate the sacred events of the atonement and resurrection.

The introduction suggests how to use the book.  At the beginning, they also explain that rather than tossing out the Easter baskets and egg-dying to make way for a more consecrated celebration, they opt to make Spring Baskets and dye Spring Eggs to welcome the first day of spring.  I liked that very much.

Part 1 is the day-by-day guide, full of ideas for honoring each day of the week.  See below.

Part 2 is dedicated to supplemental materials, including:
  • Sacred Music and Hymns: a list for both singing and listening, including classical works appropriate to the holiday (i.e. Handel's Messiah and Rachmaninoff's Vespers, among others).
  • Stories with a Message: stories from our day that add perspective to the Easter celebration.
  • A discussion regarding the Jewish Sabbath.
  • Easter Activities and Plays, which include an oil lamp tutorial and other fun activities such as The Easter Story in Eggs, Easter Story Cookies, and the Plan of Happiness Treasure Hunt.
  • A Passover Activity and Jerusalem Dinner: this section provides great information on Passover, the symbolism of the foods traditionally consumed, a list of other foods that may have been consumed in Jesus' time, and several recipes for dishes like lentil soup, seasoned lamb and barley, yogurt cheese, broiled fish, and others.
  • Many pages of this section are devoted to A Parallel Account of the Gospels, which includes all the verses in the Four Gospels (written out in four columns side-by-side) that took place during Easter week.  The authors recommend a portion for each day.
  • Useful Reference Materials for Children, Youth, and Adults: a list of books, articles, audiotapes, videotapes for further learning, as well as references for personal and background study.
  • Maps showing Jerusalem and the Holy Land in Jesus' day.

The heart of the book is the section that explores each day of the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, including prophecies for each day, corresponding scriptures, ideas for family discussion, and age-appropriate activities.  Here is just a sampling:

DAY 1 -- PALM SUNDAY: Jesus' Triumphal Entry
Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19: 28-44, John 12:12-36

Discussion Ideas
  • Discuss what your family would do to show your joy that Jesus is the Christ if he came today.
Suggested Activities
  • Act out the "Triumphal Entry Play." [Included later in the book. Just read the verses from Mark and act it out. My boys loved having daddy be the donkey.] 
  • Go on a nature walk with your children. Instruct them to find a variety of objects that are significant to the Easter story. For example, have them find a branch to signify the palm branches case in the Savior's path as he rode a donkey into Jerusalem; a thorn to represent the crown of thorns Jesus wore on his head; a piece of wood to signify the cross to which Jesus was nailed; a rock to represent the stone rolled away from the open tomb; and so on.

DAY 2 -- MONDAY: Cleansing the Temple
Matthew 21:12-18, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48

Discussion Ideas
  • Given Jesus' action in the temple, discuss how he would feel in your own family's home? How might he cleanse it? As a family, choose one way to purify your home and make that your goal for the week.
Suggested Activities
  • Name, list, and discuss some of Jesus' character traits (obedient, forgiving, kind, compassionate, humble, patient, selfless, courageous, filial, and so on). Choose one to work on as a family during the week.

DAY 3 -- TUESDAY: Parables and Teachings
Matthew 21:19 - 26:16, Mark 11:20 - 14:11, Luke 20:1 - 22:6, John 12:37-50

Discussion Ideas
  • Choose a parable or teaching as the focus of an in-depth discussion (see JTC, chapters 30-32; Robert Millet, Parables and other Teaching Stories [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999], various sections). Use questions such as the following to begin your discussion:
    • Regarding the Widow's Mite, Why were people throwing money into the treasury? What is a mite? What does the widow's money represent? How are all sincere followers of Christ like the poor widow?
    • Regarding the Parable of the Royal Marriage Feast, What does the marriage symbolize? Who is the bride? Who do the various invited parties represent? What does the wedding garment symbolize and why is it so important? What application does this have in our lives?
Suggested Activities
  • Act out a parable. Wear costumes, use props, and record it on videotape so the children can view it later.

DAY 4 -- WEDNESDAY: Rest in Bethany

Note: No events are specifically recorded for this day. It is assumed that Jesus spent the day in Bethany. You may continue to use parables taught on Day 3 or discuss later verses, such as Mary anointing the Savior and Judas bargaining for the betrayal of Christ.

Discussion Ideas
  • Define the words anoint and spikenard. Explain possible reasons why the woman anointed Jesus (see BD, "Anoint," 609; JTC, chapter 29, note 7).
  • Explain that thirty pieces of silver was the price commonly paid for the life of a male slave. Use the following questions to discuss Judas' betrayal: Why did the Pharisees set this price? Would it have mattered to Judas how much money had been offered? Has Jesus even been betrayed since then? What has been the price?
Suggested Activities
  • While reading and discussing the Parable of the Ten Virgins, burn two lamps: one willed with oil and another containing only a very little oil. Turn off all other lights and burn both lamps until the foolish virgin's lamp burns out.

DAY 5 -- THURSDAY: The Last Supper and Jesus' Prayer and Agony in Gethsemane
Matthew 26: 17-75, Mark 14:12-72, Luke 22:7-65, John 13:1 - 18:27

Discussion Ideas
  • Read Matthew 26:17-19 and discuss what you might do to prepare for Passover. Have the family participate in the Jewish tradition of cleaning the house in preparation for the Passover.
  • Read and discuss Christ's description of his own suffering in Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19.
Suggested Activities
  • Taste and discuss the ritual foods of Passover followed by a simple dinner prepared with foods common in Jesus' day. 
    • Appropriate food choices would include roasted lamb or lamb chops, bitter herbs (romaine lettuce or horse radish), unleavened bread, and glasses of grape juice.

DAY 6 -- FRIDAY: Jesus' Trial and Crucifixion
Matthew 27:1-61, Mark 15:1-47, Luke 22:66 - 23:56, John 18:28 - 19:42

Discussion Ideas
  • Discuss, in more depth, various aspects of Christ's suffering by asking the following questions: Did Jesus fully understand what he was required to do? What did Jesus mean when he said, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt?" What is the equivalent of that submission in our own lives?
Suggested Activities
  • Obtain a heavy wooden beam and try to carry it.  Taste the difference between water and vinegar.  Craft a crown of thorns using thorny branches found in your area.

DAY 7 -- SATURDAY: The Jewish Sabbath
Matthew 27:62-66, Luke 23:56

Discussion Ideas
  • Discuss Jewish Sabbath observance.
  • Read 1 Peter 3:18-20 and D&C 138:29-37. Discuss the mercy of vicarious work as part of the plan of redemption. Discuss the irony that Christ's death brought grief to his disciples on earth but joy to those in the spirit world. Ask your family, What might this teach us about trusting in the Lord with patience?
Suggested Activities
  • Eat a Jerusalem Dinner, like one Jesus may have eaten in his day.  Eat by lamp or candlelight and experiment with different kinds of olives, cheeses, dried fruits, and recipes for more complex dishes.

DAY 8 -- EASTER SUNDAY: Jesus' Resurrection and Appearances
Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-12, Luke 24:1-49, John 20:1-23

Discussion Ideas
  • Discuss the range of emotions that must have been felt by Mary Magdalene or Mary the mother of Jesus on this day (from continued shock and despair to hope and unbounded joy).
Suggested Activities
  • Meet in the morning for an Easter devotional: Sing the Resurrection hymn your family chose on Day 1. Offer a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Retell the sacred story of the resurrected Lord's first appearances as found in John and Luke (John 20:1-18; Luke 24:13-35). Share personal testimonies of Christ's atonement and resurrection.
  • Eat an Easter dinner of broiled fish and honeycomb. (Luke records that Jesus ate broiled fish served with honeycomb.  A one-inch square of honeycomb per person is sufficient for this meal.)
  • Read several Psalms, such as 23, 24, 100, 113, 136, 146, and 149, and then write a family psalm of praise.


I am enthusiastic about using many of these ideas this week!  I'm particularly looking forward to trying some of the food recommendations, especially the simple Easter dinner. 

Which ones caught your eye?  What ideas do you have for celebrating a Christ-centered Easter?


  1. We are still trying to decide on some holiday traditions for our family, and these are great ideas! I think acting out the scriptural stories are particularly useful in teaching them to young children. Even at age almost 2, Aaron would love riding on Daddy the donkey. Sometimes he requests that we watch the Savior ride the donkey on the recently made church videos.

  2. Great ideas!! I really want to bring these holidays into this kind of experience for our boys. These are great ways to do that. I may get the whole book actually...

  3. What a great resource, thank you for posting! I will definitely be buying the book.

  4. Meg and I love the many of these great ideas! I think we've found some new traditions. I wish I had read this earlier.

  5. Nonie, this was a wonderful idea to post the ideas in the book written by Janet and Joe. It is a remarkable book that they put together. The Hales have taught well their 8 wonderful children, who are not only talented, but they love each other, and are respectful, responsive, and loving to others too. Making a home centered on Christ reaps invaluable rewards.

    I so enjoyed your review and your practice of these things. What a blessing to those in your home.

  6. Such great ideas for bringing Easter to life. Once Peter is a little older I certainly want to incorporate some of these. In the meantime, Cameron and I enjoyed reading the Easter story this week, ending with the resurrection yesterday.

    A fun (but also important) Jewish custom leading up to Passover: before the Passover holiday begins, a Jewish family will clean the house inside and out. It is the special task of the children to make sure that there is no "leaven" anywhere in the house. They sweep out the corners and under the rugs. Parents can "hide" crumbs for the children to find so they can pick them up and throw them out.

  7. Thank you, Nonie! These wonderful ideas will enrich our celebrations.