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

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Before Holy Week


For ideas about preparing and celebrating Christmas, consider using the four weeks of Advent to study Matthew 1‒2, Luke 1‒2, and the Book of Mormon prophecies about the coming of Jesus such as 1 Nephi 11, Mosiah 3, Alma 7, Helaman 13, and 3 Nephi 1.[1] Also see my Advent and Christmas posts starting with Preparing for Christmas.

Between Christmas and two weeks before Easter, consider reading one of the accounts of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1‒8; Matthew 3‒20; Luke 3‒18; John 1‒10). In the weeks before Palm Sunday, start decorating the home with spring flowers, prints of art depicting the ministry of Jesus, and renew your dedication to your personal prayer life, scripture study, and service to others.

Decorate the home further for the week before Easter, filling it with fresh flowers and potted plants and putting up Christ-centered art that matches the events of each day in Jesus’ last week.
Some families may even want to borrow from the model provided by the Christmas-season Advent Wreath, which is an evergreen wreath with four candles. Each Sunday in the four weeks before Christmas a new candle is lit and a family Christmas devotional is held by its light. Perhaps starting with Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday, they can set up an “Easter wreath,” a flowery wreath with three large candles: a purple one representing that Christ is our king, which can be lit starting on Palm Sunday; a red one representing that he is our priest, added starting on Spy Wednesday; and a white candle, lit Easter morning, that proclaims that Christ came forth alive from the tomb with healing in his week.

Those who want to prepare ahead of time for Holy Week can use the following pages as guides:

Preparing for Holy Week

Studying pertinent scriptural passages individually, reading and discussing them with our families and friends, and making other intentional efforts can prepare us for a truly rich experience as we prepare to commemorate Holy Week. Like Bartimaeus, our eyes can be fully opened so that we, seeing Jesus for who he is and understanding better what he has done for us, can join with him on a scriptural journey to Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Garden Tomb. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1994, has taught, “As we approach this holy week—Passover Thursday with its Paschal Lamb, atoning Friday with its cross, Resurrection Sunday with its empty tomb—may we declare ourselves to be more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in word only and not only in the flush of comfortable times but in deed and in courage and in faith, including when the path is lonely and when our cross is difficult to bear” (“None Were with Him,” Ensign [May 2009]: 8).


[1] Eric D. Huntsman, Good Tidings of Great Joy: An Advent Celebration of the Savior’s Birth (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011).

Ideas for Celebrating Easter

2020 Note: In the wake of the Corona virus pandemic, we are approaching the central holidays of Passover, Holy Week, Easter, and Ramadan (which comes unusually early this year) at a time when we are not able to commemorate them and worship with our faith communities as we usually do. I hope, for Latter-day Saints especially and for Christians more generally, that the materials I provide on this blog might be particularly useful resources for individuals and families to turn more intensely to scriptures, music, prayer, and family traditions as a way of finding greater peace and hope in these uncertain time. 

Wishing love, blessings, and especially health to all this season
Eric Huntsman, Lent 2020

See also my 2011 LDS Living article, "Preparing For Easter: Ideas for Celebrating."

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
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.

For those who might be interested in holding similar devotionals themselves, I have made blog posts for the days leading up to Easter on my Latter-day Saint Seasonal Materials blog. The ordering of events are done according to a working chronology that I have produced that looks at the sequence of events in the New Testament Gospels, which also takes into account the traditional liturgical observances of these events:

For more in-dept study, I have also gathered all of the gospel accounts into one convenient document, which has been formatted in a "reader's edition" and organized day-by-day: http://erichuntsman.com/documents/HolyWeekReadings.pdf  

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