The best traditions bring us closer to God and one another.

G rowing up I knew that every Saturday night we’d either be eating tacos or homemade pizza. The food was good but what was even better was the whole family in the kitchen, preparing the meal together. A couple of us would be chopping veggies, another cooking meat or assembling the pizza, and someone always managed to scrape their knuckles while grating the cheese. There was comfort in the tradition, simple joy in the making of something together.

As we approach the season of Lent and Easter (this year, February 14 and April 1, respectively), I find myself thinking about the traditions our family has developed over the years. When my daughter was a baby I looked forward to her being old enough to hunt for Easter Eggs. But I wanted Easter to be about more than bunnies and baskets. I started looking for good books about Easter at the library. I picked up ideas from the internet or books I was reading and payed attention to what other people did to celebrate Easter. By the time my daughter was old enough to color Easter Eggs, I had a stack of books like The Legend of the Easter Egg and God Gave Us Easter to read to her, as well as some sticker/activity books and my own version of Resurrection Eggs to work through. That was the small, simple start to our Easter traditions.

Over time I kept hearing more about people purposefully celebrating the whole week leading up to Easter—Holy Week. I looked through my kids’ Clubhouse Jr. magazines and got ideas from the Focus on the Family website to come up with ideas for crafts to do each day of Holy Week. The tactile act of creating something as I read them a book or shared verses helped them begin to understand that Easter was more than just coloring eggs and eating chocolate.

I came across Ann Voskamp’s idea of a Grace Garden and began trying to put one together so it would be ready for Holy Week. After several years of not starting it soon enough and only having a pile of dirt with some tiny sprouts on Palm Sunday, I wised up and bought a bunch of moss and fake plants and last year we finally had a lovely Grace Garden. We added to it a clay hill with a playdough tomb that we’d made for a Sunday school Easter lesson years before. On Good Friday our Jesus figurine goes into the tomb and on Sunday morning the kids vie for who gets to bring him out again.

A few years ago we started reading Behold the Lamb cards at Holy Week meals. These are cards with a short reading connected to a particular way Jesus described himself—the Bread of Life, the Vine, etc.—and a few questions to ask as follow up. They only take a few minutes but have helped us generate meaningful discussion and remind us to pray together as a family.

Some of these things are more “spiritual” than others, some are more about having fun and creating something, but all of them create connection and build tradition. They frame a week of remembering, of taking time to think more purposefully about what Jesus was doing and thinking in that week leading up to his death and resurrection.

In the last two years we’ve added in a few things to move the celebration beyond Holy Week to celebrating the whole season of Lent. Growing up in evangelical churches, Lent was always confusing to me, a jumble of giving something up for awhile and only eating fish and putting ashes on your forehead. None of those things made me want to celebrate it. (For those of you similarly confused, here are some articles to help you gain more perspective about observing or ignoring Lent.)

But, as an adult, the idea of celebrating a season, rather than just the day of Easter, really appealed to me. I love Christmas so much because it is, for our family, a month-long season of celebration. I wanted that for Easter, as well. So, last year we used, for the first time, The Messiah Mystery, a resource from FamilyLife that begins with the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Each consecutive Wednesday of Lent there is an activity, a reading and clues to find. We didn’t do everything in it, and some days worked better than others. But it was meaningful to set aside time to mark each week, to remember that Christ’s journey to the cross began long before Easter week, and that he took that journey for our rescue and redemption.

In this expansion from Easter, to Holy Week and then to Lent, we’ve loved some things we’ve tried, shook our heads at some that just didn’t work and dropped some as the kids have grown older. It’s a continually evolving process, a journey.

But most of all, it is an opportunity to remember and to walk through all the emotions of the Lenten season: sadness, sorrow, death and victory. I want my kids to encounter all those emotions so they can learn that there is beauty in being able to lament and rejoice together, from the somber celebration of Good Friday to the joyous songs of celebration we sing on Easter morn.