A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Holy Week: A Pep Talk
by Khouriyeh Nicole Damick
First, you can DO this. Tell yourself you ARE going to do this! Wag your finger at the devil, especially when he’s poking all your kids into a ball of bedtime hour crankiness and hiding their last pair of shoes. (They don’t need shoes! They are just gonna try and kick them off when you aren’t looking anyways.)
Bring your kids to as much as they can handle. And they can handle more than you think. My children LOVE LOVE LOVE Holy Week. If you are a member of my parish, you know I have to leave about 18 gazillion times when I make myself bring them to an evening service. That’s ok. My children aren’t remembering my walks of shame, because they have no shame. But they remember “Let My Prayer Arise” and the prostrations to the Prayer of St. Ephraim, receiving Unction and the priest nailing the icon of the crucifixion up on the cross, singing our laments at His tomb and passing under it, banging our spoons as Christ harrows hell on Saturday, the moment we sing “Come Receive the Light from the light” and when we bang on the door (“Who IS the King of Glory!?”), the one week a year it’s perfectly reasonable to show up to church with a blanket in pajamas, celebrating with cracking eggs and chocolate in blessed baskets with their friends IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!!! I mean, how awesome is Holy Week?! We just spent the week joining Christ in His journey to Hell and back! Ain’t no party like an Orthodox party!
Judgment Warning: If you don’t bring them to anything because they are whiny or tired, you are a thief. The theft is not only the moments of joy in the services. You are robbing them of their right to be a full member of the Body of Christ. You are robbing your fellow parishioners of their presence, as well depriving the ornery among you of some effective spiritual training in minding your inner spiritual life. (Hehehe.) You are robbing your children of the memories they will never have, the training they need to enter into our faith more fully with each passing year. You suck it up to bring them to soccer, to school, to scouts. But you don’t suck it up for Holy Week? Exactly what is more important to you? You just let that simmer for a bit.
Ok! So you’ve decided you are gonna do this thing! But, HOW? How do you survive the 20+ services with small people? Or even just five of them?
-Don’t make non-church plans this week. When I approach Holy Week, I clear out my calendar from the Friday before Lazarus Saturday until Agape Vespers Sunday. You know what you gotta do. Even I don’t go to all the services, or if we go, maybe we don’t stay. Don’t feel like eyes are judging you, because they aren’t. (If they are, well, we’re all sinners! Ignore it!) The world, and even your parish, doesn’t revolve around you. But most people are probably DELIGHTED to see your kids experiencing the beautiful journey of the Holy Week services. Come to as much as you can, and don’t be discouraged if it isn’t all of it! But don’t fail because of poor planning. You can look up the Holy Week dates for like the next twenty years online now. You can set aside this week literally a year in advance. And you should!
-If you haven’t already started fasting as a family. Start. Now. Like the next meal. Talk to your priest for a fasting rule that works for your family’s circumstances. Breaking the fast on Pascha will mean so much more. As St. John Chrysostom says in his Paschal homily: “If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.”
-Pajamas. Make them eat a good, healthy dinner. Get them ready for bed. Brush their teeth, slip them in their pjs, bring a small blanket, and throw them in the car. Even the ten-year-old, if she needs it.
-Let them lie down, let them sit. Don’t worry about how much room there needs to be for the adults. They are supposed to be standing anyhow! If you got pews, this is actually easy, because they can bunk on or under them. If you don’t, let them curl up at the edges of the nave. It’s really fine. They are tired, but they will be listening, and you can stand nearby and mind your own prayers if they pass out. Every year they’ll sleep a little less of the services. A small stuffed animal can serve as a make-do pillow. Just keep a bag in the car with everything you need that week so you are ready.
-Talk about the services before and after. If you like crafts, by all means break out the glue and scissors. Myself, I’m too busy getting Pascha baskets and the big meal around, so I just have conversations with them. If one bit of that sticks, they’ll get a little more out of the service. Even if you just talk about it on the way over in the car!
-If you’ve got a kid that won’t chuck their crayons through the Holy Doors, bring an Orthodox coloring book or a quiet item that has something to do with the service. I’ve had good results with small boxes with bits having to do the theme with my oldest child, but my two boys are forbidden from all potential projectiles. You know your kid. Don’t bring screens, or items that will divert their mind away from the service. That is going to defeat the purpose of you doing all this good work!
-If they get wiggly, take a quiet walk around the narthex. Light a candle. Have a chat about an icon. (Don’t know anything about the icons in your narthex? Ask your priest! He’ll probably be thrilled that you are interested!) Sing a hymn together. Then bring them in and try again. Rinse, repeat.
-Know when they are just done. Really. Some services you want to stay until the end, like Lamentations, Unction, and Pascha. Some, you can duck out if things are just spiraling into potential madness, or you want to conserve some energy for them. You did a lot just by showing the kids how important it was to show up! My family usually ducks out before the Hymn of Kassiani on Tuesday and after the 15th Antiphon on Holy Thursday. And we skip a couple of the morning presanctifieds and royal hours on Friday. One year I ignored the signs so I could do all the services and everyone ended up puking before Pascha Saturday night. My inability to face the reality that being clergy family doesn’t just magically grant us all infinite energy cost us the climax of the week! I was a little wiser after that year.
-Let them help make your family’s Pascha basket. (And make individual ones for them yourself.) We put things like fancy cheese, gourmet sausage, and homemade cheese pascha. I’ve seen folks put in a good bottle of wine with McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Whatever floats your boat. Some families grew up with the tradition of including a very specific list of things and that’s pretty awesome too! In my children’s baskets we usually include an Orthodox children’s book or an icon of their saint, and then an amount of chocolate we’re ok with them devouring at 3 a.m. The idea is to make it really festive for them! Every race run needs its medal for finishing!
-NAPS. If you can’t nap everyday (and most of us can’t), at least tuck everyone in for the afternoon on Holy Saturday! You won’t be sorry! And you take that nap too! Trust me, you won’t care about the one thing you forgot to do at 12:30 a.m. when your second wind hasn’t hit you yet!
-Even if you can’t make ANYTHING the whole week, go to PASCHA. Like seriously, you are gonna miss the BEST PART. If you’ve never experienced the joy of celebrating the Resurrection with your parish family and the hoe-down afterward, you have been missing out! Parents have been bringing their kids to Pascha in the middle of the night for literally THOUSANDS of years. They used to have to WALK, the floors were stone, the heat was almost a joke, and priest didn’t leave out any of the bits like we do! We all have central heat and carpets and such. I have seen 85 year old women who could barely stand do the entire Resurrection service on their feet. A thirty-something with some energy to spare? I mean, really. You got this, supermama. Get yourself a cape!