The meaning of Easter for kiwi families

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Do we have the Easter Bunny to thank for a couple of days off each autumn? Does the New Zealand government have such sympathy with chocolate lovers that we have an annual state-sponsored festival of indulgence?

While adults will confidently answer ‘no’ to those questions, many kids today may have no idea what’s behind the celebration of Easter in modern New Zealand.

Whether you’re in the 55 per cent of Kiwis who ticked ‘Christian’ in the 2006 Census or not, if your family gets the day off on Good Friday and Easter Monday, or if you hide eggs in the garden, or if you eat rather more chocolate than usual in Easter week, a quick guide to Easter could be handy in your household.

Easter Basics

Just as we explain ANZAC Day and Waitangi Day to our kids, it’s good to have some answers for kids wondering why we celebrate Easter. Let’s start with some basic facts:

  • Easter¬†commemorates what happened to Jesus Christ at the end of his time teaching in Israel (Christmas is when we remember what happened when Jesus was born).
  • It’s a matter of historical fact that a famous teacher known as Jesus of Nazareth was executed by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem sometime around 30-36 AD.
  • We don’t know the exact date this happened, but we do know that it was in the same week as the Jewish festival of Passover, so that puts it around the same time that we celebrate it now.
  • The word ‘Easter‘ probably comes from the time of year it is celebrated, which used to be named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. In most of the rest of the world, the name of Easter is based on the local word for Passover.
  • The date of Easter changes each year because it’s calculated according to the moon.
  • Good Friday is the day that Jesus died. Christians commemorate Good Friday in a sad and serious way.
  • It’s called ‘Good’ even though it’s a sad day because ‘good’ can also mean holy and godly.
  • On Good Friday, Jesus was killed by being nailed to a wooden ‘crucifix,’ a common Roman way of executing criminals. People who were crucified usually died of suffocation, as they lost the strength to hold themselves upright enough to breathe.
  • Easter Sunday is the day his friends discovered he wasn’t in his tomb anymore. Many of Jesus’ followers, friends and family said they met him and he was alive again. This is known as ‘the Resurrection‘.
  • Christians celebrate Jesus coming back to life on Easter Sunday with happy things like eating special meals and treat foods.
  • Jesus was such a popular teacher and revolutionary figure that his followers got stronger when he died, rather than weaker. They spread the news about him all around the world. Jesus’ teachings, and his place in the Christian way of looking at the world, have become so influential that even a modern, secular nation like New Zealand marks the milestones of his life.

What about the eggs and the bunny?

Any child can tell you baby chickens hatch from eggs. As a sign of new life, an egg is a great choice! Eggs have been used as symbols of life and fertility in lots of different cultures.

For a thousand years or so, eggs have also been symbols of Jesus’ resurrection. As well as reminding us of life, an empty egg (like the ones you decorate with food colouring, or a hollow chocolate egg) is a symbol of the empty tomb.

Traditionally, Christians have also observed ‘Lent‘, the six-week period of fasting leading up to Easter. In Orthodox Christianity these days, and in Roman Catholicism in the past, people would not eat any animal products, including eggs, throughout Lent. That makes it particularly great to celebrate Easter with eggs!

In some European traditions, the Easter Rabbit or Easter Bunny brings eggs to children on Easter Sunday. Rabbits and hares are also symbols of springtime fertility because they have big litters of babies in the spring.

Traditionally, hot cross buns are eaten only on Good Friday and eggs only on Easter Sunday. Supermarkets sell both from about January these days, though, so those timeframes are changing!

What about for churchy folks?

What about if you want to explain Easter to kids because you are a fan of Jesus yourself? Do you have to talk about the blood and gore? How can you explain why Jesus’ death was significant?

Christians believe that something profound happened in our world when Jesus was part of it. Things changed forever, and that’s why we celebrate Christmas and Easter.

We believe that God became a human in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to show solidarity with humanity, to be one of us, with us, so he could close the gap between us and God. In the words of a modern translation of the Bible:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

Different people will resonate more with different aspects of the ‘Christ Event.’ Your own interests and preferences might lead you to focus on different messages and activities with your children.

Which parts of the Jesus story are most important to you?

  • Incarnation: Jesus was a down-to-earth guy who got his hands dirty living with ordinary people. He called his followers to do the same, so maybe your family could do some special things at Easter to make the world a better place?
    Perhaps you and your kids could make a list of people to share Easter eggs or hot cross buns with? Or here are 109 other ideas you and your kids could choose from!
  • Teaching: Are there parts of Jesus’ teaching that you’d like to make part of your everyday family life? Could you emphasise something in particular at Easter?
    Could loving our enemies (really, truly!) or treating people how we want to be treated become a focus for the year beginning at Easter? Maybe you could brainstorm how that would work, practically, at school and home, at Easter Sunday dinner, over the eggs?
  • Crucifixion: A focus on how Jesus suffered and died can be particularly significant when we suffer ourselves. When your kids have a hard time, can you remind them that Jesus knows just how they feel?
    Jesus’ death also reminds us that some things are worth suffering and dying for; the most comfortable choice is not always the right one. Could your Good Friday lunch include a conversation about some inspiring examples of people who have made big sacrifices?
  • Resurrection: Jesus opens the door to new life. Can you celebrate new beginnings in your family at Easter time?
    Perhaps Easter Sunday could be the day of the year that pocket money rates go up, new clothes come out of their wrappers, and everyone gets a fresh start. Perhaps you could have a family meeting to decide what things will be important to you in the coming year, and ask God to help you become more like Jesus.

Tell the Story

But really, all any of us need to do is tell the story. Jesus’ story tells us everything we need to know about who God is and who we are.

For kids, I can’t recommend highly enough Joy Cowley’s¬†Easter Story, which sets the Easter story in the context of the Big Story of God and the universe and us.

You might also like to tell the story with symbols and special foods. There are lots of ways to do this. Figs and almonds, magic Easter cookies, resurrection eggs

For adults, have another read of one or two of the Gospel accounts of the first Easter week. Time stands still for the writers as they sombrely tell their stories.

Eggs, buns, hospitality, reflection, new beginnings. Easter is full of everything we need in life.

May Easter be a profound time of connecting with each other and God for you and your family.

Thalia Kehoe Rowden

Thalia Kehoe Rowden began 2011 as the minister of West Baptist Church in New Plymouth and ended it as the mother of a charming newborn baby. She's also an awesome parallel parker, a wannabe runner and enthusiastic but rubbish at gardening.

She blogs at Kiwi Families on the spiritual practice of parenthood: listening to God as we parent our children, hearing God's voice through them and through the delights and despairs of bringing them up. Thalia also blogs at www.sacraparental.com

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Please note that this article represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Kiwi Family Media Ltd.
  • Pingback: Easter, Sort Of | sacraparental()

  • Catherine Pettigrew

    Thank you Thalia, prompting us all to think about the deeper significance of the festival

  • Bex

    I’m part of a kiwi family and this is not nor ever has been the meaning of easter in my household. It’s a day off from the daily grind for family and chocolate.

  • Claire Lambert

    Ah yes, one of the most sold stories ever written. Best part it is up to us to decide if it is fiction or not.

  • Robyn Ryan

    Your explanation makes it a lot easier (for me) to understand … Bless YOU & Thank You … I DID learn when I was a child that you ate Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday AND didn’t eat chocolate Easter Eggs until Easter Sunday … we always got a little yellow chicken with our marsh mellow eggs … Mum said she didn’t believe in God BUT she certainly knew plenty about Him …

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