בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Bārūch atāh Adonai Elohênū melekh ha`ôlām šeheḥeyānû veqîmānû vehigî`ānû lazman hazeh

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us life and sustained us and brought us to this season

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ideas for Celebrating Easter

See also my 2011 LDS Living article, "Preparing For Easter: Ideas for Celebrating" or listen to my Mormon Channel interview by Camille Fronk Olson.


Carl Bloch, He Is Risen
Given that Easter is actually the more important holiday theologically-speaking, I am surprised that it receives so much less attention than Christmas.  While we spend the whole month of December—and often even more—decorating for Christmas, shopping, and listening to Christmas music, far less preparation seems to go into our celebration of Easter.
As all holidays—religious and national—become increasingly more commercialized, it seems more incumbent than ever for families and individuals to make an effort to have them serve better as teaching and commemorative opportunities.

Many of our initial efforts to make holidays more special were initially driven by the desire to use them to teach our children principles of the gospel and focus them more clearly on Jesus Christ.  But as we have done so, we have found that they have blessed our lives as well.  Sometimes using music, decorations, or other holiday customs with these purposes in mind has reinforced our faith in the very things that we are trying to teach Rachel and Samuel
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Using our more familiar and established Christmas traditions as a guide, in recent years we have adapted them for Easter.  We have tried to decorate a bit more for Easter and have developed the family tradition of using the week before Easter to focus us more on the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Ideas for this revolve mostly on using the scriptural accounts of the Savior’s last days as the material for our personal and family scripture study, but they also include trying to listen to and sing more music fit for the season.

Easter Decorations and Customs

Admittedly Easter does not enjoy the repertoire of holiday decorations that Christmas does, and many of the more common decorations have more to do with eggs and bunnies than they do with the dying and rising Lord.  We have found that not only symbols of spring and new life, such as flowers and plants, but even fun decorations, such as Easter eggs and the occasional rabbit, can still create a feeling of joy in and around our home. As much as a Utah spring will allow, I clean up the yard and flower beds a couple of weeks before Easter, and we have planted plenty of early blooming flowers such as daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and primroses.

A few traditional Easter lilies and some other flowering plants in the living room helps sets Easter week apart as something different just as a Christmas tree and evergreens do in December  But we have also found that putting pictures of scenes from Jesus’ final week—the triumphal entry, the Last Supper, Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the crucifixion, and the empty tombprovide visual reminders of what the week is about and give us opportunities to talk to the children about what we are celebrating.

Our "Easter crèche"
Along those lines, we also have a small statuette of Jesus praying, a lovely olive wood Last Supper scene from Bethlehem, and, perhaps most unusually, an “Easter crèche.”  Our Nativity scene plays such an important role at Christmas-time, that we were thrilled when we found a combined Palm Sunday and Garden Tomb scene by Fontantini, the same maker as our Christmas scene.



Celebrating a modified form of Advent has also become an important part of our Christmas season.  Not just on the four Sundays of Advent but also on each evening of December leading up to Christmas our family gathers around our Advent wreath to hold a short Christmas devotional (see below).  My son, who struggles with some of the challenges of autism, loves this tradition, so recently I decided to come up with something similar—an Easter wreath, if you will. A bright, flowery seasonal wreath, it sits on our living room coffee table and sports three candles: a purple one for the kingly portion of Holy Week, a red one for the priestly portion, and a white candle for Easter Sunday.

First attempt at a Lazarakia
Finally, in addition to the usual decorating of Easter eggs, we have adopted some other traditional customs, such as making Lazarakia bread on the Saturday before Palm Sunday and hot cross buns on Good Friday.  It is fun to bake together, and, in the process, talk about what the treats represent.

Daily Easter Devotionals

We have for some time had the tradition of holding daily Christmas devotionals each day in December leading up to Christmas.  Gathering each evening for a Christmas story, a scripture, and a carol has become a treasured Yuletide custom, one that  helps us keep Christ the focus ot that season.  I soon realized that we could do something similar for Easter, at least for one week.

I first came up with the idea of putting together a reading schedule for my ward when I was a young bishop.  Preparing it became the genesis of an annual study of the last days of the Savior’s life, which served as the genesis of my published treatment of the Passion Narratives (see God So Loved the World, 2–3).  That book hoped to serve as a resource not only for individual study but also as the source of ideas for family devotionals. 

So while I try to read and study all the gospels’ accounts of the Savior’s final days in the week before Easter, each evening during that week our family gathers around our “Easter wreath,” reviews the events of that day of the Savior’s life, reads one or two representative passages from the gospels, sings a song, and has family prayer.

Easter morning begins by reading the story of the empty tomb and the resurrection from one of the gospels, followed by family prayer.  All this precedes the usual fun of gathering Easter eggs and candy.

In the tradition of the medieval verdant cross. Often the cross was green in stained glass windows, and sometimes paintings depicted it sprouting leaves, flowers, and even fruit. The idea was that the dead tree of cursing (the instrument of Jesus' death) became a new Tree of Life (the instrument of our salvation and resurrection).


Passion and Easter Music

Just as Christmas music adds to the spirit of that season, so does appropriate music add to mood of Holy Week.  In God So Loved the World, I selected hymns that went along with the topics and moods of each day.  On the focal days—Thursday through Sunday, I also tried to identify music to listen to from great composers and arrangers such as Bach, Handel, Cundick, and Wilberg.

Since some of this musical literature is not as familiar to many Latter-day Saints, in 2011 I interviewed Craig Jessop, former music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Andrew Unsworth, one of the Tabernacle organists, for a special Easter program for the Mormon Channel.  They reviewed the tradition of Passion and Easter music and gave suggestions for listening that will add to the season.

While much of this traditional music is solemn and even sad, I have found that listening to this reflective music, just like reading the serious gospels texts leading up to the suffering and death of Jesus, only adds to the joy of Easter morning, providing not just a contrast but also stressing what a victory it really was.

Along those lines, in 2014 the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has released a 5-track CD for Easter, beginning with "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and then ending with 4 glorious tracks celebrating the resurrection. 







A few more photos of Holy Week at the Huntsmans' 2014.









Easter Quick Links

5 comments:

  1. Where did you get your "crèche"?

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  2. It is done by Fontanini, the same maker of fine Nativity creches.

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    1. Thanks! I love this idea of mixing bunnies and the Savior. It's the same as the snowmen and Savior that I decorate with at Christmas. Also, I was raised catholic and have some crosses, even one made from a palm leaf. I love the idea of displaying them at Easter time. Thank you for your efforts to help us all appreciate this special time of year.

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  3. All of these ideas for celebrating Easter are fantastic. Everything is looking awesome in these photos. We celebrated Easter day at outdoor party venues in Los Angeles this year. It was truly a fantastic day filled with laughter and fun.

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