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What’s a UU family to do on Easter?

Grouped pysanky eggs with traditional design on them.

© 2009 Frank Pali/iStockPhoto

Because we live in a culture where Christianity dominates, Easter offers many opportunities for us to communicate our family’s theological perspectives on the meaning of Jesus. Since the celebration of Easter is for many people tied to Jesus’s resurrection, it is important that we let our children know—whether or not we consider ourselves Christian—the story surrounding this holiday.

One of the ways that I have done this, now that my children are older, is by watching the movie Jesus Christ Superstar on Good Friday (the remake done in the year 2000 makes the story more contemporary and less “retro” for today’s youth). I particularly like this movie because it is ambiguous. Throughout it, the question is posed: Is he a man, or is he God? It’s rather open to interpretation and perspective.

This movie always opens the door for conversation and the opportunity to respond to thoughtful questions. Whether it’s “Why do they call it Good Friday if that is the day he died?” or “If he was God, why couldn’t he just stop them from killing him?” these questions need to be considered and talked about. Our Unitarian Universalist children have inquisitive minds and are burning with questions. Easter can be one more opportunity to help them find some answers.

For younger children, there is the picture book on Unitarian Universalist views of Jesus by Lynn Tuttle, Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of A Beloved Teacher. Mentioned briefly is Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection as part of celebrating Christmas and Easter. Sharing this with children will give them a sense of how Jesus might have lived as a man working to promote kindness, love, and respect.

Some Unitarian Universalist parents are torn over the celebration of Easter. While they may have no problem celebrating Christmas—and the birth of Jesus—they balk at a holiday that commemorates the resurrection. They wonder if they should celebrate a holiday contradictory to their theology.
While some families wouldn’t mind a secular celebration of the holiday, so many of the non-Christian traditions around Easter involve candy and gifts. Without any real substance behind the celebration, it seems rather shallow, and the parents who share this perspective may opt out of celebrating it altogether.

There is another tradition associated with the secular celebration of Easter, however: the coloring of and hunting for Easter eggs. Eggs have long been associated with new life and were an essential part of many spring celebrations in diverse cultures.

My children have grown up participating in egg hunts where they receive candy, but also ones that involve finding stickers or other low-priced trinkets. There are some Unitarian Universalist churches that have started connecting a food drive with the annual Easter egg hunt, effectively removing the candy from the picture and turning the hunt for eggs into a service project.

My own favorite church tradition is the wearing of hats or a fancy Easter bonnet to church. This allows anyone to come in hats—sometimes crazy or silly—that express their personalities. My thanks go to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart, Indiana, for giving me and my family the chance to participate in this annual tradition.

Unitarian Universalist families who want to celebrate the secular aspects of Easter can approach it from the perspective that they are commemorating the arrival of spring through the symbols of ancient pagan traditions. Parents can talk about the annual resurrection of life through plants, flowers and trees—and if they wish—encourage their children to color eggs and participate in egg hunts to celebrate the coming of spring and the changes the Earth brings. They can also approach this holiday as a time to share about their personal beliefs and be open to questions children may have about the man called Jesus—and how other families may perceive him differently than their family does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aehrman Allison Ehrman

    Having grown up Southern Baptist, I have always felt it was important to teach my middle school-aged sons about Christian holidays and traditions, even though I no longer consider myself a Christian. However, as open as they are to every other religion’s holidays and traditions, they remain staunchly closed to learning about Christianity, even when I explain how important the religion was and is in shaping our world. Perhaps it’s because as self-proclaimed atheists, they experience Christianity as the biggest opponent to their views in our country. But when I read this article, the mention of watching Jesus Christ Superstar made me realize that I could probably persuade them to watch a film about Jesus. Unfortunately, they have made me promise that I wouldn’t make them watch any more musicals (ah…teenaged boys…), but perhaps they will enjoy a historical/scientific documentary about the life and times of Jesus because they are both into documentaries now (especially my oldest). So I’ve found a good three part series on Netflix that aired on Discovery Channel and we’re planning on starting it tonight. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Llyra

    I have younger children (ages 6 and 8) and I have so far avoided telling them too much about the Easter story because I am not sure how to explain crucifixion. We talk freely about death, as a natural part of the cycles of life, but we don’t tell stories that include violence and brutality. I remember being badly frightened by a Catholic priest’s description of crucifixion, at about that age. We will continue to talk about new life in the spring, with eggs and bunnies and daffodils, for a few years more.

  • beryl

    Here are some suggestions for Unitarian Universalist parents who might be wondering how to address the Christian perspective of Easter with
    their children:

    1. Ask your children what they KNOW about the Crucifixion stories and listen to what they say.

    2. Ask your children what they THINK about the Crucifixion stories and listen to what they say.

    3. If appropriate, let your children know that the Crucifixion and Resurrection stories are very important to some Christians and not important to some Christians.

    4. Be ready to answer questions about aspects of the story that don’t make sense from a UU perspective like “Why do folks call the day Jesus was killed ‘Good Friday’? What is ‘good’ about that?”

    5. Share your own thoughts about Easter with your child. What do you find meaningful?

  • http://profiles.google.com/ranedae poopepants smorgasbord

    My boys are 3 and 5 and I’m not comfortable with that either. My beloved and very devout Catholic aunt sent the boys an Easter story book that has the line “And then my father killed me.” I was horrified and can not bring myself to read it to them!

  • Kathy

    Great article. I do think our UU kids benefit from being versed in the major narrative of our culture and should learn what Easter is all about for their Christian friends, in the spirit of having respect for the beliefs of others.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beverly.brown.98434 Beverly Brown

    Another great movie besides JCS is Godspell, Leaves the viewer to make their own interpretation, and great songs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anita.k.snyder.9 Anita Kay Snyder

    love using confetti eggs to reduce the candy

  • Norman Davis

    I often note that in these UU Parenting articles that we the rank and file UU’ers should dislike Christians and their belief in Easter and Christmas. I denote a thread of snobbery winding its way through many of the articles. My spouse of 44 years is a Lutheran.A wonderful person who would never discourage anyone’s beliefs as long as they are sincere. Our daughter chose to follow the Reformed Judaism tradition of her great grandfather, . She announced her soon to be born child will be raised in the Jewish faith. We have fully endorsed and encouraged her in her beliefs and pursuits. I chose UU because I thought it to be all encompassing, embracing and inclusive. I’m beginning to have my doubts.

    We have no qualms about celebrating the religious aspects of Easter, Christmas, Hanukkah,Yom Kippur (pardon my spelling please), or any other occasion. I look at them as healthy ways to connect with others.

    .