By the time Easter rolls around, winter-weary folk in the Northern Hemisphere are more than ready for some rollicking fun. A handful of countries have traditions so rambunctious, tourists may regret not reading their "know-before-you-go" brochure.

In Poland, residents wake up Easter Monday to an all-day water fight to celebrate Śmigus-Dyngus, or Wet Monday. Historically young men would drench sisters and girlfriends with water to wish them health and youthfulness, but nowadays anyone can be fair game!

In contrast, Czech men seem a little more hydrophobic. They bestow their good wishes by playfully swatting their womenfolk with braided willow twigs.

Visitors touring northern Germany at Easter will want to be careful where they stroll at night. In several regions, igniting a giant ball of straw and sending it careening downhill in the dark is the thing to do at Easter time.

Narrow lanes aren’t safe to stroll in Corfu, Greece, even in broad daylight. There, residents prepare for Easter by hefting clay pots from their windows and balconies, cheering as the pots smash into shards on the street.

Fortunately for the high-strung tourist, not all Easter customs are quite so spirited! Here are a few delightful traditions you might want to borrow for your family’s celebrations.

From Denmark – Secret snowdrop letters

In Denmark the early blooming snowdrop isn’t just a flower – it’s also a symbol for a friendly trickster or tease. And it’s in that spirit that Danes love to kick off their Easter celebrations with "secret snowdrop letters." Called gækkebreve in Danish, secret snowdrop letters combine three fun elements in one charming tradition: the thrill of receiving a Valentine’s-like note, the challenge of guessing the sender’s identity, and the artistry of intricate paper cutting. For those who are more pragmatic than romantic, gækkebreve also represent a chance to score a few more Easter eggs!

Adapting this idea for your Easter celebration

Here’s how to make your own gækkebreve to bless members of your family. (It’s much like making paper snowflakes):

Take a square sheet of paper and fold it in quarters. Cut some decorative notches along the fold lines, then trace and cut an interesting design for the outside edge of your notepaper. (Google "gækkebreve images" for inspiration and admiration!)

Now it's time to unfold your newly-created notepaper and think of something to write. Danes traditionally write their message in rhyming verse, and they don’t sign their name. Instead, they add a row of dots, each dot representing one letter of the sender’s name. (The message ends with a challenge to guess the sender’s identity.)

If you’d like, you can adapt the Danish custom slightly to more closely tie your letter to Easter: add an encouraging verse about Christ’s triumph on the cross, but remove a key word and add a row of dots instead. For example, your message might include this verse: He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His . . . . . . you were healed.

Fold your note to fit into your envelope. Before sealing the envelope, slip a single snowdrop bloom into your letter. (A hand-made paper one is fine too.)

Once the recipient receives your secret snowdrop letter, they have until Easter Sunday to correctly guess the "missing" word. If they can’t guess, they owe you a chocolate egg. But if they do guess correctly, you owe them an egg!

From Israel – The Passover Seder

It’s hardly the kind of meal you would expect to catch on: salty parsley, pancake-thin bread, horseradish, chopped apples, boiled eggs and a bare lamb bone. Among traditional Jewish families however, this ceremonial meal is eagerly anticipated and carefully celebrated every year, just as it has been since Old Testament times.

Today the Passover Seder has a whole new fan base. More and more evangelical Christians are discovering Christ-focused versions of the Seder – and they love them!

Like the traditional Jewish Seder, the "Christianized" version commemorates God’s rescue of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt (as recorded in Exodus). At the same time, it also goes much further, finding in the Exodus account and the Seder ritual powerful foreshadowing of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Then there’s also the appeal of participating in a Seder much like the one Jesus would have celebrated during The Last Supper, when He broke the bread and blessed the wine as symbols of His death (the origin of our observance of communion).

Trudy Hamel, a reader from Langley, BC, explains why her family has celebrated a Passover Seder every Easter for over 15 years:

"We first discovered the Seder outline that our family uses in a Focus on the Family magazine from 1998, and it’s become a very important family tradition for us. One year my daughter wasn’t able to join us, and she was heartbroken. . . . So much of the symbolism in the Seder points to Christ as the Passover lamb and His blood shed on the cross for us. It’s deeply meaningful, and understanding the Passover Seder brings new understanding of communion too."

Adapting this idea for your Easter celebration

You can find easy-to-follow guidelines for a Passover Seder in this PDF entitled Walking Through Holy Week: Bring the Easter Story to Life for Your Kids.

Before beginning your Seder celebration, it’s a good idea to read Exodus 12 aloud to your group. You might also want to enrich your ceremony with additional symbolic elements of your own. Some families dress in Biblical costumes and "recline" on cushions at a low table – as was customary for wealthy people of the day – to emphasize freedom from slavery. The Hamel family eat their Seder dressed in jackets and shoes, "ready to flee Egypt." Another idea is to add a reverent ceremony of washing each other’s feet, just as Jesus did for His disciples during The Last Supper.

From Bermuda – Kite flying

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? In Bermuda at Easter time, it’s most likely a kite! Locals celebrate by flying colourful hexagonal kites that are unique to the region, and are flown only at Easter. Popular belief holds that the custom began when a Sunday school teacher – a member of the British Army – sent a kite with a cross-shaped frame aloft to teach his class about Christ’s ascension.

Adapting this idea for your celebration 

Trucking the kids outdoors for some kite flying would be a super fun way to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. There are also some good reasons to consider holding a special family celebration to commemorate Christ’s ascension, which took place 39 days after Easter Sunday. Kite flying would be perfect for this too.

For kids, a closer look at the many times Jesus appeared in bodily form (post-resurrection) can help cement some important concepts, for example:

  • Jesus’ resurrection was real, witnessed by many, and Jesus wants us to be sure about it
  • Jesus wants us to be sure about His ability – and deep desire – to resurrect us to be with Him eternally too
  • just as Jesus died for us, He also returns for us. When we look for Him, He always draws alongside. He wants to ensure we understand His plan for us, and that we stick to that plan.

Here’s an idea you can collapse into a single day if you wish (Easter Sunday). Or, if you prefer, you can spread it out over the following 39 days and end with a celebration of Jesus’ ascension (commemorated on May 29 for 2014):

First, designate a small object or symbol to represent "Jesus appearing." (For example, a small wooden cross.) Surreptitiously place your symbol somewhere in your main living area, and wait for one of your kids to notice "Jesus is here!" Enjoy a small treat – a few candies or perhaps a fruit juice ice pop each – while you review one or two of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to His disciples. Repeat "Jesus appearing" and your study of Scripture as often as you wish. End by celebrating Jesus’ ascension with an evening of kite flying!

Here are some relevant Bible verses you might like to use:

  • John 20:10-18 – Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene
  • Matthew 28:1-8 – Jesus appears to the women hurrying away from the tomb
  • Luke 24:13-35 – Jesus walks with Cleopas and friend on the road to Emmaus (seven miles from Jerusalem)
  • Luke 24:36-49 – While Celopas is telling a sceptical bunch of disciples about meeting Jesus, Jesus appears among them
  • John 20: 24-29 – A week later, Jesus appears to Thomas and the other disciples
  • John 21:1-23 – In Galilee, Jesus makes breakfast for Peter and his fellow fishermen
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – Paul recounts that Jesus appeared to 500 followers, to His brother James, and to Paul himself
  • Matthew 28:16-20 – Eleven disciples climb the mountain in Galilee where they receive the Great Commission
  • Acts 1:1-11; Mark 16:19-20 – The disciples witness Jesus’ ascension into heaven

Additionally, you might like to share how Jesus has "suddenly showed up" in your life lately.

From Rome – Rose petals for Pentecost

When it comes to surprise parties, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a doozy! Today in Rome the celebration that marks Pentecost Sunday may not be much of a surprise anymore, but it still attracts a crowd. In the Pantheon, at the conclusion of mass, firefighters heft thousands of red rose petals through a hole in the ceiling to flutter down from on high, symbolizing the Spirit coming as tongues of fire.

Adapting this idea for your celebration 

Like the argument for celebrating Jesus’ ascension, there’s a lot to be said for celebrating Pentecost as a family too. Pentecost helps youngsters understand that although Jesus’ bodily presence "left us" (with His ascension), ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always.

Just as the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost wowed the disciples, see if you can surprise your kiddos with this idea too:

If you have a ceiling fan, lucky you – you’ve less work to do! Just secretly load flower petals or scraps of tissue paper on top of each blade of your fan. If you don’t have a fan, loosely tape a large square of tissue paper to the ceiling loaded with your petals and paper. Leave a string dangling from one corner (cut short enough that only an adult can reach it). Alternatively, you can simply throw handfuls of petals or confetti on your kiddos when the time comes.

To include sound effects "like a violent wind" with your surprise, search online for audio of a wind storm and play it when you release your "Holy Spirit confetti." Or you could have the kids make the sound effects themselves: show them how to blow across the mouth of a plastic bottle to make their own "wind music," then release your confetti while your "wind orchestra" is still experimenting.

Follow up your Pentecost surprise by reading Acts 2:1-47 together. If your children are good readers, you might like to pretend you are the disciples "speaking in other tongues." Prepare by searching online for a favourite Bible verse in a number of different languages. Give one translation to each child and have them simultaneously read their verses aloud.

For a great conclusion to your celebration, see if you can find a multi-language version of your favourite worship song. Or check out Chris Tomlin’s fabulous World Edition version of How Great Is Our God (available online).

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2014 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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