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Ash Wednesday for the religious and secular family

Ash Wednesday for the religious and secular familyMillions of Christians around the world celebrate Lent, the 40 day period that leads up to Easter. Maybe you are one of them. I once celebrated Lent, and I had no idea why!

I didn’t know the first thing about Lent when I was growing up. But one of my school friends was Catholic. She announced one day at lunch that we should all give up something for Lent. I didn’t know what that meant, and all she told me was that you were supposed to give up something to help you think about God. Well, that sounded OK to me. So I decided I would give up drinking soda (or, “pop” as we called it).

Come August, school was back in session and I asked my friend how her sacrifice had gone over the summer. I knew it had been tough for me not to drink any pop all summer. I don’t remember her reaction. But imagine mine when I found out that Lent ended at Easter! (Now, on the bright side, I didn’t really start drinking any soda again until college. I had just lost the taste for it. I still don’t care much for it.)

To Christians, all of the traditions associated with Lent are born out of the story of Jesus’ life, betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection. Even if your family is not religious, you can join the many secular celebrations of Easter and the Lenten season. It is a celebration of Spring, new life and a fresh start. Here are a few things to know, and a few things to do.

  1. To know: The Day of Ashes is the first day of Lent, which are the 40 days leading up to Easter. This does not include Sundays. The dates are different every year.
    To do: Take your family to church. Many houses of Christian worship have services. The minister or priest will use ashes (from burned palm leave from last year’s palm Sunday) to make a cross on your forehead. Or, the non-religious can take a cue from Santa Fe and burn your own Zozobra. Residents of the southwest capitol bring records of the past year’s sorrows–everything from bad report cards to divorce papers–stuff them into a giant effigy of old man sorrow and burn them. Santa Fe doesn’t do it for Ash Wednesday, but why can’t you?
  2. To know: The cross on your forehead is supposed to remind you of several things: the death of Jesus, the sorrow you should feel about your sins, and how you need to give up those sins.
    To do: You and your your kids can do two things. One is to pray, or focus on changing, a sin or bad behavior that you struggle with. Second, pick a virtue to develop. Pick a “good thing” to do intentionally every day.
  3. To know: Lent lasts for 40 days because that is the number of days Jesus spent in the desert.
    Jesus’ time in the desert has a lot of different meanings and significance. But one thing both religious and secular individuals can apply is this: He gave up his comfort in order to become better.
    To do: Choose one thing in life that makes you comfortable, and give it up for 40 days. It’s not that giving up soda or chocolate or TV makes you a better person. But when you want that thing, you are reminded to pray, or to do your “good thing” from #2.
  4. To know: Easter is not about death but about life. Since Ash Wednesday is the day that begins the Easter season, it is a time to think about new beginnings.
    To do: Make a collage of all the new opportunities, births, and beginnings of the past year. It’s fun to make, and you can use it to help your kids think about the significance of the holiday for your family. It will also help you to be thankful for all of the wonderful things in your life.
  5. To know: Jesus had dinner with his 12 closest friends one night. The next night, one of them turned him over to the authorities for execution.
    To do: Make Hot Cross Buns. Some people don’t make them until Good Friday, but they are also popular on Ash Wednesay. Even if you don’t have much time, buy refrigerated dinner roll dough and use a knife to mark an “x” across the top just before baking. There are volumes written about the origin of this tradition. But today, such rolls commemorate the crucifixion, as well as Jesus breaking bread with his disciples before his arrest. If you are celebrating a non-religious Ash Wednesday, rest assured–the tradition of bread marked with an “x” served at a spring festival predates Christianity.

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