Although we have observed Holy Week in our own way as a family, when I asked my oldest son what he knew about Holy Week, his first question was, “What is Holy Week?” I apparently had never specifically labeled the week with that title, so my question and his response opened up a wonderful conversation about the week leading up to Easter.
Holy Week is extraordinarily significant to Christians and I have always felt strong desire to share all aspects of what Jesus went through in that week with our children. Maybe that is your desire as well. I recorded some of the more relevant questions and answers from the conversation with my son in the hopes that it would be a guide for your own conversation with your child. Think of it as “Holy Week 101!”
Question: What is Holy Week?
Answer: Holy Week is the traditional name given to the week leading up to Easter. It begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday.
Question: What happened to Jesus during Holy Week?
Answer: That’s a very loaded question, so we’re going to spend the most time on it! We can read about all of the events in the life of Jesus during Holy Week in the gospels. For your reference, Holy Week is recorded in Matthew 21-28, Mark 11-16, Luke 19-24, and John 12-20. We always spend time reading from these passages during Holy Week as we remember all our Savior endured in order to save us.
If you have younger children, it is still possible to share the events of Holy Week with them! I recommend using a story bible or book to capture their interest. (affiliate link) The Story of Easter is an adorable board book, complete with a little handle for carrying! The illustrations and story are great for introducing Holy Week and Easter to those youngest kiddos with their short attention spans! We started with this book with our boys and then moved on to more detail as they matured.
As you’re preparing to talk with your kids about Holy Week, here is a (somewhat) brief summary of the week’s events:
The beginning of Holy Week, known as Palm Sunday, was the day Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a colt as His followers waved palm branches to honor Him. This fulfilled the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” I love to make special mention of this connection to the kids because it is one more piece of evidence that God always had a plan to rescue us!
During the early part of the week, Jesus entered the temple and drove out the money-changers who had set up shop there because they were not honoring this place of worship. He also entered the temple and was challenged by the priests and elders. They did not trust His authority or believe He was sent from God.
Jesus continued to teach and perform miracles throughout Holy Week. He cursed a fig tree because it had not fruit and it withered immediately. This was a great teaching lesson for His disciples. As they looked at the dead tree in bewilderment, Jesus told them, “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:22) I believe they needed that reminder greatly as the rest of the week’s events unfolded. He taught many parables during the week, both at the Mount of Olives on Tuesday and numerous times in the temple. I can only imagine how much He longed to share all He could with the people He loved before His time to die arrived.
During the week, Jesus was staying in Bethany, the hometown of His dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. While in Bethany, He was anointed with expensive perfume by Mary as one would be in preparation for burial. No one knew at this time what was to come, but God’s plan was being fulfilled.
Many of the more familiar events of Holy Week began on Thursday (Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday), including Jesus’s Last Supper with His disciples and His prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane. During the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples as an example of how we are to love and serve one another. He also broke bread and wine with them as His body and blood would be broken and shed for us.
In the middle of the night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wept and prayed, asking God to change the plan, but only if it was God’s will. It was here, sometime after midnight on Friday, He was betrayed by his disciple, Judas, and arrested.
Friday is known as Good Friday, which may be hard for children to understand, as it is the day Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy because He said He was the Son of God and they didn’t believe Him. He was beaten and crucified, which means He was nailed to a cross and left to die where all could see. It is important for kids to understand it was a good day in God’s grand plan because it was the day Jesus died for our sins. What an indescribable gift. He was buried in the tomb that evening.
We don’t know much about Saturday, the day after the death of Jesus, but we do know a guard was placed at the tomb because the chief priests and elders thought Jesus’s followers would try to steal His body to fake His resurrection.
Then Sunday came. Mary and Martha went to visit the tomb. The stone was rolled away by an angel of the Lord. And it was empty because Jesus has risen from the dead, just as He said He would!
What a week, right?!
Question: What am I supposed to do during Holy Week?
Answer: This was such a great question from my son, but there isn’t just one right answer! What you choose to do during Holy Week depends on your background, church, traditions, and so much more. I told my son the one thing I always want to do during Holy Week is take the time to read the accounts of Jesus’s last days on earth in all of the gospels. Everything else is secondary to me getting into God’s Word to remember all Jesus endured, sacrificed, and overcame for me.
If you’re looking for simple ways to mark each day during Holy Week as a family, I put together this plan several years ago and we still use it every year. You can use the readings listed or read straight from your bible. The activities take ten minutes or less, but are so meaningful. They make me emotional every year.
I pray that, in the days leading up to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, your family will take the time to read, reflect, and remember this deep significance of the very first Holy Week and what it means to us today. This week is too important to ignore or avoid. Start a conversation with your kids and find the answers together.
Do you observe Holy Week as a family? What are some of your favorite traditions?