As we teach our children about Easter, we try to consider not only what we want them to learn about Easter, but also what they may have to unlearn.
For instance, what will our children have to unlearn about Easter? We could begin with traditions like the Easter bunny and Easter eggs.
Our little daughter, who is four, came home talking about the Easter bunny and how he was going to come to our house and shower her with gifts. She told us that we were supposed to make baskets where he could leave the eggs. Sensing a wonderful teaching opportunity, my wife and I sat down with her, and she told us who the Easter bunny was. Then I asked, “Now, what has the Easter bunny ever done for you?”
Because we had never celebrated the “Easter bunny” before, it was very easy for her to say, “Nothing.” This became an opportunity both to help her unlearn about the Easter bunny, and also to talk to her about the Savior, who was real and who had done a great deal for her. Easter was his celebration, not the bunny’s.
Another Easter tradition we encountered is new clothes. We have tried to teach our children that we buy new clothes when we need them, and not to celebrate or reward anything. If a member of the family needs new clothes or new shoes, and it happens to be around Easter, they can wear them before, during, or after Easter, but not because it’s Easter.
Our children have never really felt deprived because other children wear new clothes on Easter. Sometimes they’ve come home the afternoon before Easter after visiting a home where the harried mother was rushing to finish an Easter outfit and say, “So and so is getting a new dress because it’s Easter.”
That’s also a nice teaching moment, and we talk about new clothes and why we get them. Clothes are a stewardship, and whenever we partake of the bounties of the earth, we should do it because we need to, and not because tradition dictates it.
Easter bunnies and Easter clothes are two traditions that we have tried to help our children unlearn about Easter. What do we want them to learn about Easter? My wife and I frequently talk about how much a child can really understand about the gospel. As the Lord has said in the Doctrine and Covenants, children, by the age of eight, can be taught about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. We’ve found that teaching them is limited not so much by their capacity to understand as by our capacity to explain.
Our oldest child is seven and the other three are pre-schoolers, yet they have all been able to understand some important aspects of the plan of salvation; that we lived with our Heavenly Father and felt loved and happy; that while we are on earth, we sometimes feel lonely, sad, and hurt; that our Heavenly Father knows this and loves us so much that he sent his son, not only to teach us to be happy, but also to show us that when we are lonely and unhappy because of our sins that we can repent; that through repentance we can be as happy as we were when we were with Heavenly Father.
We explain that eternal life is one of the gifts of Christ, and that ultimately it will involve living with him and our Heavenly Father again; but that we can begin now by living his principles. As we live his principles, he is with us in spirit. The joy of that feeling is a way of experiencing a glimpse of eternal life even in mortality.
I remember when we taught Jaime, our oldest, about the atonement, we explained the pain that the Savior had felt in Gethsemane. Jaime has also felt lonely and helpless and hurt after he has been unkind to his brother or sisters. So he understood how Jesus also feels lonely for people when they hurt another person. He understands that because the Savior loved us, he suffered so that we can have eternal life.
Since eternal life to Jaime perhaps means feeling loved and joyful, we talk a lot about what it means to have eternal life and the fact that Jaime can do a lot to feel close to Christ right now, a preview of what eternal life with him will be like.
Consequently, we help our children identify that feeling of closeness and articulate it—the sweetness that comes during Family Home Evening, the feeling of security and comfort that comes from priesthood blessings, the warm feeling that Heavenly Father is really listening to our prayers. If they can identify these feelings, then they can understand what the Savior does for us, not only at Easter, but always.
However, Easter is an excellent time to teach the principles again. Two or three weeks before Easter, we begin to orient our home to the gospel concepts of Easter—resurrection and eternal life. It takes this long because the world has already begun presenting the Easter bunny as a very glamorous concept. Within the walls of our home, our challenge is to make the spiritual experience of Easter even more inviting.
We prepare special visual aids and lessons for Family Home Evening and involve the children as much as possible. We also learn hymns about Easter and the atonement—almost any sacrament song has a wonderful message about the Savior.
On the Saturday before Easter, we all help prepare a special meal for the next day. Going to church becomes even more important than usual and the services have always had such a good spirit that the children have also been inspired. When we come home, we eat in our Sunday clothes, off our best china, so that we keep the special feeling.
In the afternoon, we sit down quietly together and review the whole experience. Since children love repetition, we go back through all the concepts, asking them questions they can answer, like “Where did we live before we came here?”
We review often, throughout the year, of course. Since the world is always with us, making our Savior equally vital to our children and to ourselves needs to be done every season.