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Celebrating Holy Holidays at Home

How to connect with your family through religious traditions in this “new normal.”

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Westminster mom Kristi Gonsalves-McCabe mourns the loss of her usual Holy Thursday mass at Regis University. This year she’ll gather her four kids for a foot-washing service at home, reminding her family to serve each other and be kind in their close-quarters.

Families that commemorate religious occasions this time of year—Easter, Passover, and Ramadan—now face challenges in keeping their traditions. Stay-at-home orders mean there will be fewer people around tables and in ritual spaces. Yet, spiritual practices are still accessible and may be especially grounding for families in a time like this. Online resources and some of Colorado’s faithful can help you make the most of at-home holy days.

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Holy Week

April 5 to 11

Easter baskets, chocolate eggs, bunnies, and egg hunts are fun parts of celebrating Easter, but there’s more to the Christian Church’s Holy Week observances. Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday (The Last Supper), Good Friday, and Easter often include cherished worship and fellowship gatherings.

In some churches, special services and children’s ministries are moving online to help families continue spiritual development during stay-at-home orders. Colorado Community Church in Aurora is giving out family take-home bags for Holy Week. Kids can use the bag’s craft materials along with pre-recorded videos to go on a “Road to Resurrection,” a theatrical and interactive tour of Jesus’ journey. Parents can also pick up bags with ongoing Sunday school activities, and bags with basic care items to share with people experiencing homelessness.

“This is not what we expected from this week,” says Annie Waterman, children’s ministry pastor at Colorado Community Church, who is keeping in touch with the kids through video updates. “We’re trying to give [families] as much of a normalcy as possible.”

Easter Sunday Mass and the Triduum services (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Vigil) at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in Denver will look like a mixture of livestreaming and recorded options.

“We are looking to Easter to bring us new life and to figure out how we might find some sense of normal,” says Kristen Kraus, member of the church’s Faith Formation Team. “This feels more like the tomb than the resurrection. I do believe we will rise and I do believe we will come back to another sense of normal, but it still might be quite some time before we are there.”

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In the meantime, Most Precious Blood is hosting a weekly virtual youth group for their teens. Kraus also points parents to online teaching resources such as Loyola Press and St. Mary’s Press for books and activities for youth religious education.

More ways to practice Holy Week traditions at home:

Passover

April 8 to 16

This seven to eight day holiday marking the Jewish Feast of the Unleavened Bread involves prayers, elaborate dinners, storytelling, and song. The first two nights, families gather for Seders, 15-step family-oriented ritual packed meals. Much of Passover is celebrated in the home, says Rabbi Emily Hyatt of Temple Emanuel in Denver, but that can mean a 40-person gathering of close friends and relatives. This year calls for innovation.

Temple Emanuel of Denver, which typically hosts a first night Seder that draws 450 people, will lead an observance live on Facebook for anyone to join. They’ll also coordinate traditional meals for pickup or delivery in advance.

“Part of this is to make sure that people are eating,” says Hyatt. “We also have a caterer that we work with on a regular basis. We want to make sure that she is not suffering financial hardship. We’re thinking on all levels how to take care of the people that interact with our community and our synagogue.”

Temple Emanuel is engaging thousands on livestreamed Shabbat services, checking in with congregants, and conducting Zoom calls with kids to sing and to process the news. Hyatt, a single mother herself, reminds parents to talk about the power of family, community, and values in Judaism that can help make sense of the current situation. Social distancing relates to the value of saving a life: pikuach nefesh. The story of the Passover and Exodus as told at Seders includes both darkness, wandering, and freedom. Families celebrating at home can find teachable moments in the tales, rituals, and songs.

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More resources to engage the whole family in Passover traditions:

Ramadan

April 23 to May 23

During this holy month in Islam, after each days-long fasting, Muslims typically gather with friends and family or head to a mosque for an iftar (fast-breaking meal) and a two-hour-long prayer. It’s a time in which Muslims celebrate the gift of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad. This year’s Ramadan season will feel different.

Iman Jodeh, spokesperson for the Colorado Muslim Society, says: “If we can shift people’s perspectives and say this time focus on your inner supplications (dua), on your relationship with God, and humbling your own perspective on the world, rather than focusing on those gatherings like we usually do, then Ramadan will take on a new meaning, but it’s not a wrong meaning.”

Significant practices in Ramadan, including fasting and giving zakat (charity), offer Muslims a time to reflect, detach from daily indulgences, and count family, health, and food as blessings. Families that fill time at home with spiritually meaningful practices, says Jodeh, are made strong in times like these.

While the Colorado Muslim Society’s mosque remains physically closed, they’re connecting with folks through phone and video calls, webinars, and livestreamed Friday prayers. Ramadan plans are still under review because two-hour-long prayers can be difficult to hold virtually. However, the Society will host themed weekly webinars featuring two experts in the community. Folks can tune in and submit questions.

Ramadan routines unify Muslim communities, but the way individual families celebrate at home vary in traditions and special foods prepared for the holiday. Parents can find increasing amounts of Ramadan-related items in stores and online, then help children take ownership of the month and make it a special time for them personally.

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“It is fun for the kids because this is when you start to introduce them to a lot of these things,” says Jodeh. “I really am looking forward to seeing how parents are going to adapt and make Ramadan more creative and fun for their children rather than making them feel that they’re missing out on something.”

More ways to celebrate and reflect during Ramadan:


How are you celebrating these holy holidays at home? Share your new traditions with us by tagging #ShareColoradoParent on your social platforms.

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