Somehow we haven’t talked at all about Lent this year! Part of the reason is that I’m very (very) pregnant and have been working on my nesting to-do list like crazy, so it’s taken me more time to get into the swing of the season. But we do love talking about celebrating the church year around here, so I wanted to dedicate at least one post this month to sharing some of my favorite Lenten family traditions.
I find it helpful think about church year celebration in terms of our various senses. What will my children see in our house that will let them know it’s Lent? What sounds will help us remember that we are focusing on repentance and Christ’s work on the cross? Can I plan our meals in such a way that will help us mark the road to Calvary? These are the types of questions that help guide my desire to create a distinct home atmosphere during each part of the church year. Given that framework, below are some ideas that I draw from during Lent. Please share your own in the comments!
- Display a purple banner of the cross – change to a black banner during the last few days of Holy Week
- Frame a “Lord Have Mercy” print, courtesy of Kristen at This Classical Life
- Make and use a variation on an Advent wreath (photo below), to be used in conjunction with a Lenten family devotional
- Print out a Lenten calendar, marking off one day at a time. If you don’t already have a Christian Seasons Calendar, get one of those as well!
- Set out a set of sheep figurines and a shepherd for storytelling and play – I recently read that focusing on the parable of the Good Shepherd is a great way to encourage very young children to draw near to God during Lent.
- Set up an Easter garden (inspiration here and here) or make a tomb display about a week before Easter
- Listen to a playlist of songs that focus on the cross, atonement, repentance, surrender, and mercy
- Learn a simple prayer of confession that you can say together as a family at each mealtime. For instance, our church’s Lenten family devotional begins with a child saying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” and the rest of the family responding with “And renew a right spirit within me.”
- Read books that have Lenten themes. For kids, try At Jerusalem’s Gate, Exodus, The Book of Jonah, Sidney and Norman, Just the Way You Are, and Peter’s First Easter. For grown-ups, check out Living the Christian Year. Biographies and The Divine Hours are great for all ages. [Update: We posted a longer list of Lenten-themed books and resources here.]
- Fast from sweets or meat
- Share a simple soup supper with friends, followed by a time of prayer
- Make soft pretzels and talk about their symbolism
- Even if you don’t do any fasting during most of Lent (we often don’t), give it a try during Holy Week. I like to prepare very basic meals without dessert all week long as a spiritual discipline as well as a contrast to the feasting that commences on Easter Sunday.
- Contribute time or resources to a local charity or ministry to those in need
- Go through your material possessions and find some things to give away
- Find a way to help out some neighbors
- Secretly Do Good Deeds for family members
One of the main ways that my own church tradition marks Lent is through Holy Week services held the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Easter. I particularly love the Easter Vigil that’s held on Saturday evening – if you’ve never been to one, consider finding an Anglican church in your area and attending. It’s the highlight of the entire church year! I’m bummed that I probably won’t get to go this year… but it’s for a good reason (I plan to be cuddling a newborn!).
Of course, it’s not too early to think about how to make the switch from Lent to Easter. Last year I posted a short list of ways to begin the Resurrection celebration – and continue it for longer than just one day. You can also take many of the above ideas for Lent and find ways to do something parallel for Easter. For instance, you could display a white banner with a gold cross and listen to songs that proclaim Christ’s triumphal resurrection.