Since our whole country (and many others) stop for Easter and participate in the delicious traditions of eating chocolate and hot cross buns, I felt my boys needed an explanation of the occasion. Not being Christian myself, I find some aspects of the Easter story don’t fit with my understanding of The Universe so I tell it in my own way. This post is about how my family finds meaning in Easter.
I wasn’t going to write this post because I don’t like upsetting others and I’m not controversial by nature. I’m aware that some people may feel that, not being Christian myself, I’m in no position to write about Easter, let alone pick-and-mix from Christian beliefs. I realise that some people who consider religion entirely separate from spirituality may feel I should stay well away from this, the central story of Christianity.
But, one of my personal life lessons has been to be more courageous and to follow my intuition & inspiration, even when it’s scary. Having thought I wouldn’t write about Easter because I feared upsetting others, the ideas for this post came flooding to me as I was driving to the shops a few days ago and I felt had to write it. So I am – knees trembling a little if I’m honest.
I have to trust that I have readers who can accept that we all understand things a little differently and that agreement isn’t necessary but Love is. This is my point of view on Easter. I offer it not to tell you what to think but as food for thought – to help me clarify what’s true for me and you to clarify what’s true for you. This is my truth and I write it with Love and respect for all perspectives.
WHY I DIDN’T TELL MY CHILDREN THE EASTER STORY AT FIRST
A little over a year ago, Jake (4 years old at the time) saw a cross at a church and said to me, “That’s where the Easter eggs come out”. I had never told him the Easter story and wondered how he had managed to even link the symbol of the cross with Easter time. At that stage, Jake had eaten plenty of Easter eggs in his short life but I hadn’t told him the Easter story for a number of reasons –
The brutality towards Jesus – Jake is a sensitive soul and I think he would find some of the details quite disturbing, especially the thought of Jesus’ hands being nailed to the cross.
The resurrection – how can I help him to understand that Jesus rose from dead but none of our relatives or friends will? Death can be difficult enough for a child to get their head around without adding this into the mix.
The idea of humans being inherently sinful – I believe we are all inherently worthy, created as the Creator wanted us to be, and I want my boys to know this.
WHY I DO TELL MY CHILDREN THE EASTER STORY – MY WAY
Whether we take Bible stories as historical events or symbolic tales, there are lessons we can learn from many of them. I think most religious traditions likely have stories with wisdom to offer when we are willing to interpret them with Love. So, when it came to Easter, I looked for the wisdom in the story, and what I have found is a lesson in love. I now tell my boys the story with a bias towards forgiveness and, at their young ages, I choose not to include sin or the death & resurrection yet.
My simplified edition of the story emphasises the moment when Jesus, hanging on the cross in pain, said “forgive them” of all the people who had put him there and taunted him. I explain that the hot cross buns we eat on Good Friday remind us how he was put on the cross and the Easter eggs we eat on Easter Sunday show remind us of how he forgave the people. A baby chick is a new life and we talk about how forgiving someone is like having a new life because, when we forgive, we can be happy and kind again.
This way of telling the Easter story seems age-appropriate for my boys and provides an opportunity to remind them of the power forgiveness has in our lives. The ability to forgive is essential to everybody’s lives. (I wrote about what forgiveness means to our family in my post Teaching Children About Forgiveness.)
As with any story, different people find different meaning in the Easter story. And for people who aren’t Christian, being open to finding a message is far more powerful than hoping our children won’t ask what Easter is all about. I realise a number of key concepts are missing from my retelling of the Easter story. As my boys get older, I will add more details until they have the full traditional version. I will explain to them the Christian perspective on Easter, share my point of view and encourage them to find their own. And it may be that they may discover meanings in the Easter story that I haven’t.
IN SUMMARY: LOOKING FOR LOVE WHEREVER WE ARE
For some, Easter may just be about the chocolate and hot cross buns. For me, it’s a chance to talk with my boys about love and forgiveness. As a spiritually-led parent, I’m always on the look-out for opportunities to emphasise the power of Love in our lives, however they present themselves. If I was living in a different culture, I would be looking for the same opportunities amongst a different set of stories and traditions. We are spiritual beings, looking for what resonates. Love & forgiveness resonate for me.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – What Does Easter mean for you and your family?
Jake has been planning his Christmas list for well over a month. He has reviewed it with me daily.
We all remember being children and the anticipation over what might be inside our presents on Christmas morning. Jake’s excitement is normal but it does have a touch of entitlement to it. As I wrote in my last post, Christmas: Santa or Jesus?, it’s the Christmas spirit of Love that I really want to emphasise in our family this season. I hope to show my boys that there are aspects to Christmas other than getting presents that are joyful also and to shift some of the focus off what they can get onto what they can give.
With that in mind, over the years, we have developed a few simple family traditions for giving at Christmas time. Spend twenty minutes on Pinterest and you’ll have lots of great ideas you might want to use with your family. Here, is what we do –
Making cards and gifts for others – Making homemade gifts and cards helps us to focus on the people we have in mind for them. Jake and Thomas have been involved in making things for others since their first Christmases. Initially, they contributed red and green art to homemade cards but now Jake can write his own messages and make simple gifts. Not everyone we know gets a homemade gift or card because that’s not manageable for us. We usually make them for teachers or the boys’ own friends.
Helping with Christmas jobs – learning the gift of service begins with helping me out with Christmas jobs! Perhaps it’s helping to bake for one of the shared morning teas we attend, to select an appropriate present for someone or tidying the house for Christmas visitors.
Candy cane elves – We did this activity for the first time last year. We attached notes to candy canes saying, “If you find this candy cane, it’s yours. Merry Christmas”. Jake then hid them around the local shopping mall for people to find as we did our errands. He was buzzing with excitement. The best part was walking past places where he had left a candy cane and discovering that they had been taken!
Christmas giving jar – at the beginning of this year, we put a Christmas Giving Jar in our playroom. I made a label for it and a slot in the lid to post coins through. Throughout the year, we have put our spare change in it. Jake has contributed small amounts of his pocket money and Thomas has posted coins in for my husband and I. We counted it up this weekend ($96.80) and will decide together how we can use it to do something kind for someone. We may donate it to an organisation we want to support, help someone we know who has a need or buy things we need to perform an act of service. I am hoping that, as the boys get older, they will want to contribute more of their own coins to the jar (though it’ll always be optional) and that they will begin to think of ways the money could be used to help others themselves.
As we do these things, we talk about the people we are doing them for and why we’re doing it for them. This is how we glue the meaning to the process. None of the ideas above are too time consuming and all can be kept very simple. But I hope they’ll add to the Christmas spirit in our hearts and show my boys that there is as much joy in giving as there is in receiving.
I write my posts from a personal perspective. When you read them, I am not necessarily wanting you to agree with me. Really, I am hoping that you will be prompted to ask yourself “what is true for me?” so that you can parent (or teach or coach…) with intention. Although the meaning I attach to Christmas may be different from your own, I have written this post for everyone – Christian, of another religion, spiritual but not religious and neither spiritual or religious – to get you thinking about how you bring meaning to Christmas with your children.
I try to offer my boys a simple explanation of every public holiday that we have. If it’s worth the whole country taking a day off, it’s worth explaining to them. Usually, there are starring characters – the ANZAC soldiers or the Queen, for instance. But whose story do I tell my children at Christmas time – Santa’s or Jesus’?
Those who are Christian would say Jesus. Those who are non-Christian would likely stick with Santa. But there are a whole lot of us in between. Like me. I don’t consider myself Christian. Yet “non-Christian” doesn’t describe me either. When it comes to religion, I am a member of none and a student of all. There is great wisdom to be found in many of the world’s religions but there are also aspects of each that don’t feel true to me. Although I’m not Christian, the Christmas nativity story is more than a story to me. I tell it to my children in my own way, with an emphasis on Love.
In my mind, Santa is just a creation of consumerism that I’d rather overlook but, for my boys, he’s a character of magic and happiness. I’m not going to take that away from them.
So, throughout December, we have books about both Jesus and Santa on our coffee table. I think it’s confusing for children having both stories on the go, they struggle to keep the two stories separate in their heads. “Where’s Santa?” Jake asked once when examining a nativity scene. In time, they’ll understand.
So, this is what I have been telling my boys about why we have Christmas. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. We celebrate his birthday because Jesus was an exceptional example of living from love and there is a lot we can learn from his life.
My boys know that Love reigns supreme in our house and that Jesus is one of the ultimate examples of Love. On Christmas Day, we open presents, gather together and eat special food just as we do on any other birthday. Jake is a little unsure about why we go to all this effort for someone we’ve never met and who lived two thousand years ago but he happily goes along with it.
I think most people accept Jesus at least as a historical figure, if not a spiritual one. Explaining to our children that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday is a simple and truthful way to share the reason for the occasion, regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs.
I am very conscious, though, that I tell the Christmas story with my own slant, in order to bring out the message of Love and avoid ideas that don’t sit well with me. I believe it’s upto my boys to feel things out for themselves when it comes to spirituality and it’s not my role to filter everything. So we go along to our local church to attend the annual children’s Christmas service. The friendly congregation welcomes us and include Jake and Thomas in the Sunday School’s performance of the Christmas story. Mary travels down the aisle on a large stuffed toy donkey which finds its place by the manger when she arrives at the front of the church. Last year, Thomas climbed onto the donkey and rocked back and forth as if to ride it while Mary settled into her new lodgings and the congregation sang a Christmas song. “There’s always one who has to ride the donkey”, laughed the Sunday School teacher.
Even if we choose not to tell our children Jesus’ story in any way at Christmas time, we can infuse the occasion with Christmas Spirit – Love. All the usual ways that we recognise Christmas can be done so with Love. Being explicit with our children about where Love is in our Christmas traditions helps them to see it as more than a day of excessive food and gifts. For example –
In our family, we have a number of traditions for giving – service, gifts, kindness. These are to show my boys love in action. I will write about these in a future post this December.
Making contact with friends. Many of us go the extra mile to catch up with our friends in December and to send messages to those we can’t see. Last year, Jake and I made gingerbread men for him to give his friends. We talked about how our gift was a way of thanking his friends for their friendship and wishing them a happy Christmas .
Family. Many people make family the focus of Christmas. Within their own family is where children first learn about love. Our unique family traditions are rituals that bring us together in love. Whether it be gathering around the table to eat a meal with all the trimmings, spending the afternoon playing cricket in the back yard or attending a midnight church service together.
What About Santa?
Santa can’t be avoided. I try to treat him as a bit of fun on the side but I know he is larger in my boys’ heads than Jesus. I accept that. They don’t know yet that a heart full of Love is more exciting than a stocking full of presents. But they will.
I’d prefer Santa wasn’t on the scene because, as a society, we’ve taken him to the extreme and he makes our children more interested in what they will get rather than what they will give. But we have to work with what we’ve got. And we’ve got Santa. He, at least, creates an opportunity to talk with our children about how good it feels to give as well as to receive. Last year, I dug up the history of the ‘real’ St Nicholas who secretly gave gifts to needy people in order to give Santa a bit more credibility.
So, I help Jake write his letter of wishes to Santa. We listen to songs about Santa in the car. We enjoy preparing a snack for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve. And, despite my own misgivings, I delight in my boys’ excitement as much as they delight in Santa. I avoid using Santa to manipulate – “Santa won’t be coming if your behaviour doesn’t improve”. I’m not going to give him more power than he deserves. He’s not the powerful one.
In Summary: Love
Of course, it’s not really an either/or question – Santa or Jesus? Both can be accommodated and celebrated to whichever extent feels right for ourselves and our families. Both can be used as characters through which to introduce the Christmas Spirit of Love to our children. (It takes a little more creativity to squeeze juice out of Santa but it can be done.) Whoever takes starring role in your hearts and the hearts of your children this Christmas, may the exchange of Love be plentiful.