When I was growing up, the traditional meat chosen for our Easter dinner was never questioned. We celebrated the holiday with the non-Catholic side of my family, and it was ham hands down. That side of the family would have considered lamb too fancy.
We kids were never interested in the particulars of the dinner, anyway. Our day was focused almost exclusively on the “eggstravaganza” in my Grandma and Grandpa's big back yard, for there were prizes to be won, strategies to be developed, “Big Bad Uncle Jon's” antics to be cleverly avoided — and, somewhere, the golden egg!
In the midst of enjoying glorious goodies such as these, how can families keep the focus on Christ's glorious resurrection during the hours they aren't in church?
Here are some religiously based things my family does to capture my children's imaginations and reclaim some of the culture's Easter symbolism for Christ:
On Good Friday, we take down religious pictures from our walls. We don't have that many, but we have enough that the emptiness — and the restoration on Easter — makes an impression.
We dye Easter eggs to use as a centerpiece for our Easter dinner, reminding the kids that it's a perfect symbol of the Resurrection — out of the “tomb” of the shell new life emerges.
On Easter morning, the little ones are likely to be up by dawn. So, we read the dawn discovery of Christ's empty tomb. On that note, even the Easter bunny can be “baptized,” since what animal was likely to be the first to discover the empty tomb? We then hunt for the Easter baskets hidden by the “Easter angel.” The children look for the resurrected Christ in the form of a holy card in their baskets.
1 Later on Easter day, we hide colored eggs, coins and candy in the yard. The golden egg holds a ticket, which entitles the bearer to a religious book or item, or a coupon for a special outing or activity with Mom or Dad.
Throughout the day, we greet each other with the traditional monastic greeting, “Christ is risen!” and its response, “He is truly risen!” The kids really get into this, and it's a great way to continually recall the reason for the season.
1 Finally, we eat lamb at Easter dinner. There's nothing wrong with ham on Easter; in fact, there are ancient blessings for Easter hams. There is something to be said, however, for eating lamb as a sign of continuity with the Jewish Passover. We eat lamb — not just because it happens to be my husband's favorite — but because it's an opportunity to remember the Lamb of God and talk about the Passover meal that came before the greatest miracle of all: Christ.
April Hoopes writes from Hamden, Connecticut.
Easter Fruit Tart
Here's an excellent dessert recipe to help you celebrate Easter. The fruit can be arranged to display a variety of Easter-based designs. This recipe is easier if it's done in stages. It provides 10 to 12 servings for lovers of sweets.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Heat oven to 300° F. In small mixer bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until smooth; blend in flour.
Press mixture into bottom and up side of 12-inch round pizza pan. Flute edge, if desired. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely.
1 2/3 cups (10 oz. package) vanilla chips
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 package (8 oz.) softened cream cheese
Place vanilla chips and whipping cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred vigorously. Beat in cream cheese. Spread on crust. Cover and refrigerate.
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/2 tsp lemon juice
assorted fresh fruit, sliced
In small saucepan, stir together sugar and cornstarch; stir in juices. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened; cool. Meanwhile, arrange fruit on top of filling; carefully pour or brush juice mixture over fruit. Cover and refrigerate assembled tart just before serving.
— April Hoopes
Special readings are an important part of our Easter-dinner blessing.
For kids, we read aloud the second chapter of Jonah, a story that naturally interests children. We make the connection about Christ who lay in the earth's belly and then rose from the dead, and explain why we should, like Jonah, give praise to the Lord.
For adults, we read the following excerpt from a discourse on the psalms by St. Augustine of Hippo:
“We are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after. The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future. What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life; what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess. This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season to praise. Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing. … But see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, lives and all your actions.”
— April Hoopes