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Countdown to Easter

Forty ways to celebrate the greatest event in history

Lent is the 40 days, not counting Sundays, before Easter. These Scripture readings, fun activities, discussion points and hymns to read or sing will help your family focus on the most pivotal Christian truth: Christ died and rose to save us from sin!

  1. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, gets its name from an ancient tradition of throwing ashes on one's head to demonstrate sorrow for sins. Explain to your child that Lent is not a time to be gloomy, but a time to consider how much we need the salvation that Christ secured for us. If your church doesn't have an Ash Wednesday service, consider taking an older child to visit another church.

  2. Buy an Easter lily for your home. The lily symbolizes new life because something so strikingly fragrant and beautiful grows from a lifeless-looking bulb.

  3. Paint a spring mural. Put up a wall-sized piece of paper, tape newspaper to the floor, dress your child in old clothes and get out the paints! Even if it's not greening up outside, you can start springtime indoors.

  4. Take a "new life walk" outdoors, searching out tiny shoots, sprouting buds on trees and eggs in birds' nests.

  5. The season of Lent alternates times of remembering Christ's suffering with celebrating the Resurrection (every Sunday during the season). Adopt a European tradition and collect bells you have around the house (jingle bells from Christmas?) to ring on the Sundays of Lent.

  6. Lent is traditionally a season for "giving up" as a symbolic, outward act of identifying with Christ's suffering. Your child may want to choose something to "sacrifice" for the 40 days of Lent?trips to McDonald's, after-school TV, chocolate.

  7. Explain the word redemption, using the dictionary definition as well as the Christian doctrine (hints: "recovering ownership" and "restoring value=").

  8. Sing together the hymn "O Sacred Head":

    "O Sacred Head once wounded,
    with grief and pain weighed down,
    how scornfully surrounded
    with thorns Thine only crown!

    How pale Thou are with anguish,
    with sore abuse and scorn!
    How does that visage languish,
    which once was bright as morn."

  9. Bring springtime indoors. Buy potted crocuses, daffodils or tulips for your home.

  10. Help your child understand why Jesus was called "the Lamb of God" (his role as the unblemished sacrifice: Ex. 12:21-24; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7-8). With your child, make a lamb. Glue cotton balls to a small paper plate, then add pink and black construction-paper eyes, ears, muzzle, nose and hooves.

  11. Read or summarize Exodus 12:1-42 to give an older child a context for the Passover celebration that Jesus observed the last week before his death. Explain Christ's death as the ultimate sacrifice for sin and discuss the significance of God giving up his firstborn Son.

  12. Fill a clay pot with soil and grass seeds. Your kids will be able to watch the swift growth of the grass shoots.

  13. Look up 2 Corinthians 5:17. As a symbol of a "new creation," make butterflies using a large piece of wrapping tissue scrunched and secured in the middle with a clothespin.

  14. Make homemade pretzels, which originated as a Lenten treat.

  15. Define resurrection for your kids. Have an older child undertake a "Bible hunt" to identify people who died and were raised to life. In every case, Who did the resurrecting?

  16. Sing or recite together a few lines from "How Great Thou Art":

    "And when I think:
    that God his Son not sparing,
    sent him to die?I scarce can take it in;
    that on the cross,
    my burden gladly bearing,
    he bled and died, to take away my sin!"

  17. Buy inexpensive packets of summer flowers, place each packet in a separate envelope, then decorate the envelopes with pictures of the full-grown flowers. School-age children can write the flower name on the envelope. Offer these as Easter gifts for friends or neighbors who enjoy gardening.

  18. Make this a gift-giving season. The gift of Immanuel, which we celebrate at Christmas, finds its ultimate expression in Christ's sacrifice. Homemade gifts, such as cookies or cross-shaped paper bookmarks, are best.

  19. To "give up" something as a family, eat a late breakfast and skip lunch on Saturdays during Lent. Give the money you save to a local organization that helps the poor or to your church's benevolent fund.

  20. Create simple spring animal puppets using paper lunch sacks with construction-paper faces glued to the bottom panel. Then have a family puppet show!

  21. Find an old muffin tin and fill the cups with soil. Help your child plant a different type of flower seed in each compartment. As the plants begin to come up, thin out the growth by removing weaker sprouts so two or three healthy flowers grow in each cup.

  22. The old word lenten means "springtime"?a season of new life. Visit a farm or petting zoo and look for newborns: piglets, bunnies, lambs or chicks.

  23. Read Matthew 26:1-16, 47-56. Talk about your child's experiences of betrayal or disappointment in friendships. Imagine Jesus' personal hurt at Judas's treachery and the subsequent desertion of Christ's closest allies.

  24. Define atonement, helping your kids understand the ideas of making amends or repaying a debt that is owed.

  25. Recite together these lines from "Man of Sorrows":

    "Man of sorrows!
    What a name for the Son of God,
    who came ruined sinners to reclaim!
    Hallelujah?what a Savior!"

  26. Read Isaiah 53:2-8. Depending on the maturity and readiness of your child, describe Jesus' sufferings on the cross.

  27. Explain the word alleluia, which comes from a Greek translation of a Hebrew phrase meaning "Praise the Lord"?a call to worship.

  28. In Greece, Christians celebrate Easter with a festive outdoor banquet. On the first warm-enough day, eat lunch together outdoors.

  29. Create egg-shaped art. Cut an egg shape out of cardboard. Use it to trace onto drawing paper. Then turn your ovals into crayon pictures of rolypoly rabbits or chicks.

  30. Explain repentance in terms of understanding God's holiness and seeing yourself through his eyes. Emphasize God's loving desire to redeem sinners.

  31. The idea of new clothes for Easter comes from the Easter Sunday tradition of some churches to bring in new members or to baptize new believers dressed in white. Just for fun, make an Easter bonnet by decorating a paper plate with silk or paper flowers. Two slits on opposite sides of the plate allow a ribbon to pass through so you can tie it underneath your child's chin.

  32. Sing together words from "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing":

    "See all your sins on Jesus laid:
    the Lamb of God was slain.
    His soul was once an offering made
    for every soul of man."

  33. Act out the "parade" of Palm Sunday as a family. Have family members take turns putting themselves in the place of Jesus, receiving a royal welcome but knowing that the crowd's intentions would change in less than a week. Note: the word hosanna translates "save us, we beseech thee."

  34. Make hot cross buns?small, spicy, sweet buns that are a traditional Easter treat.

  35. Clean house! Jewish families typically cleaned before the Passover celebration.

  36. Prepare to observe Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy comes from a root word meaning "mandate" or "command." Look up John 13:34-35 to discover the "new commandment" Jesus gives.

  37. Discuss Jesus' experiences in the garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:36-46. Then read his prayer for all believers?including your family?in John 17:20-26.

  38. The name Good Friday probably evolved from the phrase "God's Friday." Talk about why the day Christ died is ultimately very good?the best?because we all need a Savior.

  39. Get a clearer idea of the miracle of the tomb rock rolling away by finding a large rock and trying to roll it yourselves. Note that only an act of God could put the guards to sleep and move such a big stone.

  40. Practice the traditional Easter greeting: "Christ is risen!" and the reply: "He is risen indeed!"

Annette LaPlaca is the mother of two and the author of The Sunday Morning Fun Book (Shaw) and other activity books for children.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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