In addition to displaying our crown of thorns, which helps me to contemplate the sacrifice of our Lord, we'll do some of the following. We're still deciding what we'll do as I write this, ten days before Ash Wednesday. (The starred items are things we always do, in addition to learning new prayers, giving up a few things, and giving additional alms.)
*Operation Rice Bowl
This program is part of Catholic Relief Services. Each year, we get a cardboard "rice bowl" from our parish, and we fill it with the money we save through the things we've given up, such as meat on Fridays, sweets, and whatever else. This is such a great, concrete way for our kids to see that our sacrifices bear fruit: We didn't eat chocolate today? Someone in the world will be able to eat dinner tonight with the pittance we gave up.
See this page for resources to download, including a Lenten calendar that contains personal stories, statistics and simple, meatless meals.
*Lamb of God Calendar
On poster board, draw a large picture of a lamb. I have used, as a model, the clip art I found here. Divide the body into squares to make a calendar, covering the entire period of Lent. Each day, have your children glue a cottonball (or a few, depending on how big the squares and how eager the little hands) on that day’s space. This is a great way for little ones to count down to the great feast of Easter and it gives them a concrete picture of the length of the season of waiting. Ramona loved this last year.
*Lenten Caterpillar/Easter Butterfly
(This idea is from my dear friend, Holly, who is godmother to all of my children.)
Cut out 1/4 of a cardboard egg carton and have the children paint it for the caterpillar's body. Glue on "googly eyes" and use pipe cleaners for antennae and legs. Display the caterpillars throughout Lent. When Holy Week arrives, wrap your caterpillars in paper or coffee filters (their cocoons.) On Holy Saturday night (after kids are in bed) tear open the cocoon and replace it with a butterfly.
The butterfly will depend on the artistic skills -- or lack thereof -- of Mom and Dad. Our butterflies have ranged from drawings, to origami to a picture downloaded from the internet (that was a hectic year) to fun foam and sequins. Add to the symbolism of rebirth with a note proclaiming, “Jesus gives us New Life! Alleluia!”
I also just found this really cute idea from Abbey Press. It starts out as a caterpillar, but you rearrange it during Lent to turn it into a butterfly.
*Lenten (salt dough) Crown of Thorns/Crown of Glory
We just adopted this one last year, thanks to my great friend, Johnna. She invited us over to make salt dough crowns. We braided the salt dough, and formed it into a circle. We inserted six candle holders into the crown, one for each of the weeks of Lent. Throughout Lent, we lit a candle each week (just as we do in Advent) to "count down" the days and add a special sense of anticipation to the coming of Easter. We added Scripture readings and prayers.
When Easter arrived, we spray-painted the crown gold and decorated with silk flowers and ribbon. Johnna chose to break the toothpicks off when she turned it into a Crown of Glory. I left the toothpicks in, and liked the effect of the "gold rays" emanating from the crown.
Here's a link from Catholics United for the Faith, with a variation on this idea (the kids pull out a "thorn" for each sacrifice or act of kindness performed during Lent.) This crown looks very much like the one we created.
*Homemade Soft Pretzels
1 pkg. yeast
1 tsp. salt
4 c. flour
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 tbsp. sugar
1 beaten egg
Measure warm water into large (warm) mixing bowl. Sprinkle on yeast and stir until it looks soft. Add salt, sugar and flour. Mix/knead dough. Shape dough into standard or your own special pretzel shapes.
Grease cookie sheets and lay pretzels on them and brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
On Ash Wednesday, put out an empty jar and a bowl of kidney beans. For every sacrifice, prayer, act of kindness or penance performed, the children place a bean in the jar.
On Easter morning, your children will find the beans have been replaced with jelly beans, M & Ms or other favorite candy, reminding them that the rewards of Heaven will be sweet.
Holy Family Meal
(this idea came from an article by Maryann Davis Cochran, which I read years ago, somewhere ....)
Show your kids how Jesus and His family would have eaten. Sit on the floor (only wealthy people had chairs...) and serve 1st century fare. Fill pita bread with your choice of salad greens, onions, garlic, parsley, cucumbers, cheese and fish (I have substituted tuna for smoked fish or sardines ... my kids aren't that culinarily adventuresome.)
Remember -- they used plates, cups and knives, but not forks and spoons! For dessert, Jesus might have eaten a mixture of figs, dates or apricots, raisins, walnuts and honey. Eating this sticky mix with a knife or fingers will leave an impression on your kids. For the beverage, serve grape juice. Before and after the meal, read from the Old Testament, as the Holy Family would have (a good reading is the “Shema”, an ancient Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
(The following ideas have been collected over the years from a variety of sources, and I'm not entirely sure where credit properly belongs. Variations on these ideas are found in a number of places online. If any of these are original ideas of yours, please let me know) :
Make a chain from purple construction paper. Each day of Lent, each family member writes (on a purple strip) an intention for the day: a prayer, sacrifice, or penance they intend to carry out. Every few days, glue or tape them together into a chain, and keep it in a prominent place, reminding all of the spirit of Lent.
Jelly Bean Prayer:
Red is for the blood He gave.
Green is for the grass He made.
Yellow is for the sun so bright.
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made.
White is for the grace He gave.
Purple is for His hour of sorrow.
Pink is for our new tomorrow.
A bag full of jelly beans, colorful and sweet,
is a prayer, is a promise, is a special treat.
Various crafts can go along with this prayer. Jellybean bracelets, mini-baskets, jelly beans wrapped in cellophane and given to friends as gifts ....
*Have You Ever Wondered Where the Easter Bunny Comes From?
We will again read this little booklet, subtitled, "a Children’s Tale of the Passion, as told by Radix." It's a wonderful story that places the Easter Bunny at the Cross. Unfortunately, Radix no longer publishes this coloring book, but check out what else the Radix Guys have to offer.
A Sacrifice a Day
Sometimes, for children, the idea of giving something up for six weeks is quite daunting. An alternative is to do "a sacrifice a day." From a central source, let your child choose what she will give up each day. The central source could be a list of ideas, posted in the kitchen. Or, cut that list into strips, place them in a jar and let the child choose one at random each day.
Stations of the Cross, for children
Visit this web page for an online set of meditations by Fr. Victor Hoagland. See Catholic Culture for another idea.
*Make your "New Year's Resolutions" now.
Lent is a time of renewal. I find Lent is a much better time than January to examine my life and reassess what I do.
What are we "supposed" to give up during Lent? There are some things that are prescribed, certainly, by the Church, such as meat on Fridays. And there are other things that are encouraged, such as giving up most or all "festive foods." But, sometimes, my unconventional sacrifices have borne unexpected fruit, too.
One year, I decided to give up listening to anything while I was in the car. It led to more prayer time (we happened to live about a half hour from everything at that time), more thinking time, and it led to being much more selective when I did start adding some "noise" back into my travel time.
Another year I gave up wearing earrings during Lent. Sounds silly, doesn't it? These days, I don't think of myself as a heavy consumer of jewelry, but I do have pierced ears, and there's usually something in them. But, giving them up helped me to focus on my vanity, and enlightened me as to how much I think about such things. And, now that I think about it, not being a heavy consumer of jewelry probably has something to do with Lent that year.
Various Great Links for more ideas, recipes, crafts and information:
Fr. Victor Hoaglund's pages
Apples 4 the Teacher
EWTN's history of Lent
Do not dismayed daughters, at the number of things which you have to consider before setting out on this divine journey, which is the royal road to heaven. By taking this road we gain such precious treasures that it is no wonder if the cost seems to us a high one.
The time will come when we shall realize that all we have paid has been nothing at all by comparison with the greatness of our prizes.~~ St. Teresa of Avila