February 18, 2015 through April 2, 2015 is Lent season. Whether you are Christian or not, now is a great time to teach a little history and culture to your children about this holy season. I grew up Catholic and don’t attend Catholic church with my kids, but I still love to educate them on culture and religions around the world. Whether it be about the traditions of the Chinese New Year or the Lent season that I celebrated as a child and a Catholic school student, it is a lot of fun and a great time in their lives for them to be intrigued about all of the special holidays and how other children like themselves celebrate.
What is Lent?
Lent is not a holiday, but a time frame. It is the name given to the 40 days before Easter (except you don’t count Sundays). So Lent actually starts about 46 days before Easter. Lent means ‘long’. You can teach your kids that it is a period of wait and preparation for the big day-Easter where Jesus resurrected. In the church we are reminded to focus on forgiveness and how we can be better Christians.
What do we do in Lent?
During the 40 days of Lent, we pray and fast as we think about all that Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. A common tradition and one we did as kids growing up, is we choose to ‘give up’ something for 40 days. Common things that kids will give up are a favorite toy or to give up all candy or gum. This is how we observe and relate to all that Jesus gave up for us.
Celebrations during Lent
Lent begins with an event called Ash Wednesday (hence Lent always begins on a Wednesday). Men, Women and older children will have the cross drawn in their foreheads using ash. It is common for the ash to come from the burnt remains of palm leaves left over from the previous year’s Palm Sunday which I will discuss. The reason for the Ash has changed a bit with time. You can choose to have the ashes and the most common Christian meaning is a way to renew your baptism vows in the church. It can be a way to be blessed as you start your prayer and personal Lent journey.
On March 29, 2015, just 1 week before Easter, Palm Sunday is celebrated. Churchgoers are given palm leaves to take to there homes as a symbol of this day of celebration. It commemorates the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Donkey. The crowds scattered palm leaves and even clothing in the roads in front of Jesus as he rode into town.
The last week leading up to Easter is referred to as Holy Week. Beginning on that Palm Sunday and also including 3 more days of prayer and traditions that week. On Holy Thursday all levels of priests from all diocese will attend mass. It is the celebration of Christ’s institution of priesthoods to the Catholic Church. Because passover began at sundown, the Holy Thursday Mass is held at night. It is a common tradition for the Bishop to wash 12 of his Priests feet as a symbol of Jesus washing the feet of his 12 apostles (or first Priests). This night symbolizes cleansing and many rituals make up this mass. In some Christian traditions, a special Passover meal is prepared and shared with family. Other cultures use this as the day of ‘Spring Cleaning’ where they will deep clean homes in a symbolic way of washing away yearly sins.
Good Friday proceeds Holy Thursday and is essentially a day of mourning, not celebration. The altar at church will be bare, stripped of drapes, decor and an open tabernacle. Good Friday is the meaning for Easter. We remember the cruel death of Jesus. Catholic schools traditionally close this day so children can be with their families on this day of mourning. It is between 12-3pm that 3-hour silence is observed. Families and even the young children will have silence during the 3 hours Jesus suffered as he died on the cross.
Holy Week and Lent ends on Easter Sunday. This is a day of rejoice, celebrations and feasting. Jesus is alive as God has brought him back. When he died on the cross, he took all of our sins and put them in his own heart. When God brought him back to life, he returned without our sins. Jesus was back and our sins were gone. The people are now forgiven and are friends of Jesus and God and we are loved for the ways we treat and love each other.
Teaching your children
This is a very brief overview of the Lent celebrations, but if you can understand all of the meanings, then researching fun books and activities and choosing days to teach based off of the Lent observances, will help you guide your child into understanding what Lent means. Worried about teaching a child about crucifixion? You are not alone! There are many sites (such as http://www.cornerstonesforparents.com/talking-young-kids-good-friday-easter) that help you out!