“Easter is a sacred day, a day of thanksgiving and divine worship,” President David O. McKay once said. “It is not a day just for rejoicing because of the opening of springtime, not merely an opportunity to display beautiful hats and fine clothing—it is an occasion for the expression of gratitude to God for having sent His Only Begotten Son into the world to be ‘the way, the truth, the life.’”
Creating and holding onto Easter activities that reflect President McKay’s words is a challenge for all Latter-day Saint families. Such traditions can not only effectively teach gospel principles and serve to strengthen testimonies, but can also help create an atmosphere in which family members gain self-esteem—thus helping build strong family relationships.
At this sacred time of the year, gospel-centered family activities should take precedence over the Easter Bunny, colored eggs, baskets, baby chicks, candy, special meals, and new clothes. On Easter Sunday, for example, Brother and Sister Douglas have their seven children ponder the question “What does Jesus mean to me?” It is a quiet morning, and at the end of the time allotted, they share their thoughts. Easter morning is a spiritual experience in this home, one the children remember.
It sometimes takes courage to establish worthy Easter traditions, says the mother of one young family: “For as long as I can remember, Easter had been a weekend of camping with my husband’s nonmember family. But as our testimonies grew we knew we had to change our Easter activities. Because of our love of the Savior and our desire to be obedient, we decided to forego the weekends of softball and family fun for the peace and comfort of celebrating Easter Sunday in a more spiritual way. Our children see our example of faithfulness when we pack up early to go home for Sunday. They realize it is our Easter tradition to attend Church, and we have received blessings because of it.”
In order to make Easter a day of divine worship, many families begin to prepare a week ahead. They feel the family home evening prior to Easter Sunday is especially important in helping them prepare for and understand the significance of Easter. They draw from Easter lessons found in the family home evening manuals. (See manuals for 1976–77, pp. 107–9; 1977–78, pp. 29–32; 1978–79, pp. 45–46; 1979–80, pp. 88–90, 93–95; 1982, pp. 55–58.)
“My parents are firm believers in family councils,” says one LDS teenager. “My dad sometimes jokes and calls them summit meetings. We meet together when things get fouled up or when something really neat happens. My parents let us discuss what we think we should do about problems, and they let us decide what we want to do for vacations and holidays. We always talk about our activities, but sometimes I know it’s the way they ask questions that makes us think. One Easter they asked, ‘What would Jesus have you do?’”
Giving children an opportunity to choose their activities gives the traditions added interest. Children are more likely to embrace an activity if they help choose it.
Family prayer is given additional emphasis in many families the week before Easter, with more than usual attention given to thanks for Jesus’ love, his sacrifice, the Atonement, and the Resurrection. The members of one family set personal goals for a particular virtue they wish to achieve. Each person strives throughout the week to achieve his goal and to have a “perfect day” on Easter.
The “show love tradition” is also observed in many LDS homes both at Christmas and at Easter. After discussing the great love of Jesus, family members make a special effort during the week to show the love they have for one another.
In a Sunday lesson prior to Easter, a Blazer teacher challenged his class to “do something special for someone, something not expected of you. In this way,” he explained, “you can show your love and appreciation to Jesus for all he has done for us.” The teacher then gave each class member a card that read: “I will make this a something special Easter by (name of activity) for (name of recipient). Signed__________.”
He instructed the class to fill in the blanks, to carry out their service, and then to sign the card. The Blazer class responded to the teacher’s challenge with extra chores done, messages of love delivered, kindness demonstrated.
The idea of doing something special for someone inspired the teacher so much that he took the challenge home to his family and discussed with them how to use it to celebrate Easter more meaningfully. They decided to visit a widower on their block, a man they had been meaning to visit for some time. When they arrived on Saturday morning with a basket of homemade cookies and colored eggs, they saw that he needed their assistance in several ways. With their renewed commitment to do good, there came an awareness of others’ needs. Their Easter service project became a family tradition and left a long-lasting impression of the joy it brings to serve others.
Taking an Easter flower to grandma and grandpa is a tradition shared by many. Some families go even further and use Easter as a reason to visit the elderly and others with a bouquet of spring flowers.
Holiday traditions in Bishop Darwin Thomas’s family are rich with music. Sister Thomas teaches singing, and the five children often sing in performing groups. At Easter the children have the opportunity to choose a favorite Easter song. Among those the older children like are the hymns “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” (no. 201) and “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (no. 10). The small children often choose “Jesus Has Risen” from Sing With Me (F–17).
Family bulletin boards are an important tradition in the Anthony Christensen home. Each child has a bulletin board in his bedroom. There is also one in the hall, one in the kitchen, and one in the playroom. At Easter time the board in the playroom is divided into two sections. On one side is a picture of an Easter basket and on the other a picture of Jesus. Underneath are the words: “What is the true meaning of Easter?”
Mrs. Grant Atkin, a mother of small children, finds that having the children’s Sunday activities centered around what they call their “Sunday study table” helps the children to be appropriately occupied. Paper, crayons, paste, and scissors are provided for creative activities. At Easter the young children color pictures that tell the story of the Resurrection.
Many families find scripture reading time the best opportunity to discuss the important Easter events. Some scriptures to study the week before and then discuss on Easter are Matthew 28:1–20 [Matt. 28:1–20]; Mark 15:42–47; Mark 16:1–20; Luke 23:50–56; Luke 24:1–53; John 19:38–42; John 21:1–25; and 3 Nephi 8:5–7, 17–18, 20–22 [3 Ne. 8:5–7, 17–18, 20–22].
Food is often the center of traditions. However, many families wish to keep cooking and clean-up on Sunday at a minimum. They still enjoy the traditional dishes to which they have become accustomed, but much of it is prepared in advance.
One family would meet at the grandparents’ home for dinner. After the meal, the grandmother would ask the children the meaning of Easter. The first Easter after she died, the family met for the traditional dinner, and after the meal an older child asked, “Aren’t you going to ask us the meaning of Easter?” He had been anticipating his answer to the question asked by his grandmother.
The father who stood at the kitchen table one Easter morning to express his feelings also began a family tradition. He told his family how grateful he was for Christ’s sacrifice and how happy he was they could be resurrected. The father conveyed a sincere and powerful message to his family. Each year thereafter he or another member of the family would bear a testimony to the family about the meaning of Easter to them.
Another father uses holidays, birthdays, Christmas, and Easter to hold special interviews with each member of his family during which they talk about their feelings for Jesus. The children in this family look forward to this holiday tradition with eagerness.
Colored eggs, baby chicks, tasty food, and new clothes may be symbolic of new life. But focusing our attention on our Savior and his gifts of life through the Resurrection and the possibility for eternal life through his Atonement is the best way to make Easter a day of “divine worship” and to establish gospel-centered family activities worthy of this sacred day.