Keeping Lent: A Guide to What We DO for Kids

This post is one in a series of Catholic Toddler Letters.

Last week, Adam from Equipping Catholic Families asked Frankie, What kind of things does your family do during Lent, Frankie?

Dear Adam,

Thanks for introducing me to your Boppa. My Grandad is also awesome. He never grumbles about where he sits in church, but he does sometimes call us maggots.

Anyway, you asked what we do for Lent. The way you put the question goes well with our family Lent philosophy. We try focus on what we DO for Lent rather than what we DON'T DO (although, of course, there is plenty of not doing stuff, but that can be for another post).

First things first, we celebrate Fat Tuesday! We like to let ordinary time go out with a bang.

How Our Family Celebrates Ash Wednesday

Then, on the morning of Ash Wednesday, after we get back from Mass, we decorate our house for Lent. We put burlap and little cacti and rocks on the mantle above our fireplace and as the centerpiece of our dinner/school table. On Passion Sunday (the fifth Sunday of Lent), we drape our crucifixes and our little altar table with purple cloth.

My mom is a stay-at-home mom, and we are stay-at-home kids, so it's nice for our house to reflect the season. Since that's where we almost always are, it's very helpful for my brothers and sisters and me to see Lent all around us.

Instead of emphasizing giving something up, then going right back to our same old practices as soon as Easter comes, our family tries to use Lent as a fixed time period to try to live a perfect Christian life. We haven't achieved that yet (maybe this is the year?!) but that's how we try to look at it.

Lent is when we have adopted many of our best family practices, like attending daily Mass, and saying a family rosary, and mostly we've been able to keep up those good practices after Lent is over.

Lenten Sacrifice Bean Jar

The way we keep track of all the good deeds and small sacrifices we kids try to make during Lent is with our Lenten Sacrifice Beans. My mom puts out a tin of dry purple kidney beans next to an empty jar. Each time we do some small thing in a perfect way, like coming quickly when mom calls, or not fighting over who gets to spit first while we're brushing our teeth, we get to put a bean in. When the Easter Bunny comes, he changes all the sacrifice beans that we've put in the jar into jelly beans. Then, we keep up our good deeds and sacrifices during Easter season. But instead of putting a sacrifice bean in, we get to take a jelly bean out and eat it.

Lent is long. It is hard for kids to remember how much time is left until Easter. Moms really seem to hate answering the same question more than fifteen or twenty times, so we have a Lent Calendar that my mom can just point to if we ask how many more days until Easter.

Our Family's Lent Calendar

We print out a little clipart image for each of the forty days of Lent, plus an extra one for each of the six Sundays and tape them all to the glass of the swinging door in our kitchen. The pictures all surround a sign that looks just like this:

Each day we take one picture off, until Lent is over.

At our house we, of course, observe the required days of fasting and abstinence (I'm still too little, but even my next oldest brother and sister can handle going without snacks and seconds on fast days). But we also make a point of using up all the perfectly good food that's been hanging out in the back of the pantry or the freezer because it's not our absolute favorite. My mom limits her grocery spending to perishables like dairy and fruits and vegetables until we've gone through what we've got in the house. During Lent we try to live simply and eat simply.

Once we've all sat down at the table and said grace, we count to forty out loud before we start to eat. It helps us remember that Lent is a time of waiting and preparation, and it also helps all the little kids learn to count.

Which brings me to the thing we do during Lent that makes our whole family and all our good friends look forward to Lent every year. Seriously.

Hosting Stations of the Cross and Soup Dinners on Lenten Fridays

Each Friday of Lent we host Soup and Stations at our house. A different family volunteers each week to bring a simple meat-free soup and some bread and we provide water to drink. Except on Good Friday, when my Nana does a real Memphis catfish fry for everyone!

My biggest brother Jack made all fourteen stations from a kit,

and we hang them outside on the trees in our backyard. After dinner, as soon as the sun has gone down we pass out fourteen lighted taper candles with drip protectors (the drip protectors are very important for little hands!), since we do it outside, we also use wind protectors when necessary.

We have a few copies of a very nice booklet called Stations of the Cross for Children. (Note: Now we use my Stations of the Cross Booklet!)

Someone reads the meditation from the booklet at each station, then one candle gets blown out. As we walk to the next station, we sing the first verse of the Stabat Mater. When we get to the last station, we blow out the final candle and stand in the darkness for a moment. It is a very powerful and wonderful experience for kids and grownups alike.

But if you're going to try it in Canada, you might need to stay inside.

Finally, because it is our goal to live out our wonderful Catholic faith in a perfect way during Lent, we keep the fasts AND the feasts. Our Holy Mother Church has seen fit to give us days of great joy in the midst of our sorrows.

How We Celebrate Feast Days During Lent

And so we celebrate the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and St. Patrick's Day (I know it's not a real feast in the US, but don't try to tell that to my south-side Irish relations), and we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph and the Solemnity of the Annunciation (this is actually moved to April 8th this year, bummer!), and we celebrate each Sunday as the feast day that it is. And because it's Lent we try to celebrate as perfectly as we can!

Your mom has some really great ideas for family activities for Lent. We look forward to trying them out this year.

My new question for YOU is . . . what could our families do TOGETHER, along with everyone reading this, to make Lent something we DO instead of something that just happens to us?

So that's all for me today. Whew, it was a long one. I'm going to need a nap. Have a fruitful Lent. Stay warm. And, as always, keep 'em on their toes.


Frankie's mom here: We certainly seem to have picked up a lot of Lenten practices. But they all came one by one over the years. The things that worked we've stuck with. Stay tuned in the coming days for more details about how we celebrate Fat Tuesday, more on what we DON'T do during Lent, and why, a few of my greatest Lenten fails, and our family traditions for the Chair of St. Peter, St. Patrick's Day, and St. Joseph's Day.