For children, who are innately self-centered and very needy, the journey of Lent is a difficult one. The message of sacrifice, solidarity, and grief are difficult even for adults. However, if you offer your children lived experiences it will surprise you just how well they can come into an enduring understanding of the Seasons and the Mystery of G-d. Further. If you lead the way and engage the Mystery of the season yourself, you will be surprised at how well your children catch on to the changes of their parents soul-ish parts. I have a post Engaging Mardi Gras that is all about the significance of the season. Check it out!
As Daniel and I venture into our first Lent and Easter with a child, I have been spending a lot of my free time in thought about how to begin structuring our rituals. Although Lois is still a baby and will sleep through most of this, many of my readers have older children and well...its better to start now. So for our future and for my lovely readers here are some of my thoughts:
Where we live, our school system closes for the whole week of Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, so it is easy to make it a day of play and baking for you and your children. In the history of the Church, it is traditional to use shrove Tuesday to empty the cupboards of all the decadence, delicacies, and temptations that your family will sacrifice during Lent. An idea? Make a party of it!
Bake, Fry, Eat
We will be inviting friends and family over that evening for a Fat Tuesday party. Guests will be encouraged before hand to consider their upcoming sacrifices and bring something to share with guests that represents that sacrifice. If they don't have anything or aren't particularly religious, no problem! As the guests arrive we will have fun baking with the kids - emptying out our cabinets of all the rich flours, eggs, butters, and chocolate chips that we will be doing without. Dinner will be equally wonderful - perhaps fried chicken and bacon-laden beans?
Make Some Noise
Don't forget to sing songs of Hallelujah - or at least listen. I honestly detest being made to sing in public (I would rather drink melted lard than sing Happy Birthday). Either way, get all those sweet songs of glorious and raucous praise out of your system in preparation for the somber tone of Lenten worship. Daniel, Lois, and I, being Episcopalian, won't hear the word allelujah in worship for several weeks. It is amazing how you come to long for it and how satisfying the Hallelujah Chorus is on Easter Sunday after such a simple fast of Words.
On Fat Tuesday (or during the party) set up a crafts table with a large scroll to decorate. Have one of the adults write a huge "Alleluja" in big block letters on the scroll so that the children can color in the letters and paper with all the bright colors, paints, and glitters of spring. The scroll is to be buried after dinner and resurrected on Easter Sunday. I think the creation and burial of the scroll is a really powerful symbol of the Lenten fast of words for the Children. Something about putting to bed the most colorful things to meditate on the less exciting, somber, and even sad things...
After the last bite of dinner, maybe sing one last song together (or dance, scream shout, whatever) as you exit to bury the scroll. As the scroll is buried everyone enters total silence. If you're not doing the scroll, still do the silence. I understand from my friends with children, that the observance of silence on the eve of Ash Wednesday is wonderful contrast and observance for the young ones as it helps them realize that the threshold to a new season has been crossed. This silence is observed for the rest of the evening. That means cleaning the kitchen, riding in the car, brushing the teeth, and going to bed.....whew!
For more ideas and an all around good discussion on the subject, check out To Dance with God by G.M. Nelson.
I am excited and hope you are encouraged to engage the season. Carnival is laden with interesting symbols and opportunities for growth and Engagement. Meanwhile, Laissez les Bonne Temps Rouler!