FORSYTH COUNTY — Families will be donning bright spring attire, and maybe even a pair of new shoes or a hat, today as they prepare to celebrate Easter.
Many children will find and fill baskets with brightly colored eggs and candy, while others may have their photo taken with a giant bunny.
Easter is full of family fun, but for many Christians the festive spirit of the day comes with a special reverence.
Jeff Ross, senior minister at Cumming First United Methodist Church, said Easter is the holiest of days for many in the Christian faith.
“We have Easter and Christmas, but the whole of Christianity hinges on Jesus coming out of the tomb,” Ross said.
He added that while some religious people may not understand the usefulness of Easter eggs, bunnies or other kid-friendly aspects of the day, they actually are similar tools to those used by Christ himself.
“I think that was one of the masterful things that Jesus did,” Ross said. “He didn’t stand in a pulpit somewhere and wait for people to come to him, he went out in the countryside, on hillsides, by the water and by the wells, to all the places where people were and not just religious people, but just where people were.
“And He talked to them, He met them, He got to know them … so I think egg hunts and vacation Bible school and all the things we do with children are a way to invite them to get to know God and Jesus and the church.
“They’re a way of catching children’s attention … it opens a door.”
But once the door is open, how do children stay on the path throughout their lives. In honor of the holiday, several Forsyth County area residents paused to reflect on the spiritual journey from childhood and the role Easter traditions have played.
‘It draws them in’
Easter has always been important to the Pike family. When her oldest child was young, Jennie Pike and husband Shane started with egg hunts at home.
It was one of the many activities the couple has made a tradition with their three children — Harrison, 14, Mary Elizabeth, 11, and Jonathan, 4. The family reads Easter books together and uses candy eggs for math projects. As the children got older, the eggs found during hunts would contain a symbol of the Easter story.
The family tradition also includes baking resurrection rolls. A marshmallow, symbolic of the body of Christ, is dipped in butter, cinnamon and sugar and wrapped in a crescent role.
“When you pull it out of the oven, the marshmallow melts away and it’s to show the tomb was empty,” Pike said. “They’ve been doing it since they were little bitty and we’re still doing it now. Some things become tradition.”
While they’re fun activities, Pike said she’s always incorporated the faith and meaning behind the holiday, while waiting until her children were older to introduce the crucifixion, which she said can be “weighty and scary for young kids.”
Her older children, both of whom participated this year in a glow-in-the-dark Easter egg hunt, still enjoy the fun parts of the holiday. These days, however, their family egg hunts also incorporate finding Scripture passages in the eggs and comparing them with the four gospels. Each year, her children learn more and more about the holiday through the traditions.
“I think it draws them in,” Pike said. “I think it’s a good way to get them interested when they’re really young. They see the fun in it, but there’s always that reminder of the true meaning. But it can be done in a fun way.
“They become a fun memory, but it causes them to want to reach further and dig deeper as they get older.”
Knowledge deepens faith
When he was a little boy, Nolan Stafford would go to Mass early on Easter morning while his grandparents would hide the eggs the family had boiled and colored earlier in the week.
When he returned, Stafford and his two older brothers would hunt for the eggs. At about age 6 or 7, Stafford said it became confusing to see the eggs and the bunny, but “the correlation really wasn’t there.”
He wanted to know why these childhood traditions were part of the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“I didn't understand why we were rewarded with candy on Easter Sunday and what that represented,” he said. “As I learned about the Catholic meanings behind my young Easter traditions, I learned that the hard shell of the eggs symbolize the sealed tomb of Christ; thus symbolizing the Resurrection.
“Hunting for the Easter eggs became a way for us to symbolize the search for the risen Jesus. It took me a while to figure it out, and then I learned more and more and it became even more clear.”
Stafford, an eighth-grader at Pinecrest Academy in south Forsyth, said the fun memories from childhood encouraged him to want to learn more about the holiday and the faith.
“It helps with the younger people because it’s just a fun thing to do. Like Christmas without presents, I don’t think I’d have fun on that,” he said.
But now, the holiday is about his deep faith and the information he’s sought growing up.
“If you know the actual roots of the holiday, it becomes so much more special to you,” he said. “My faith became stronger as I learned more about the holiday.”
Getting closer to God
At age 23, Lisa Depalma is engaged to be married and thinking about starting a family one day. She grew up Catholic, attended Catholic school and remembers growing up with the Easter bunny and egg hunts.
When she one day becomes a mother, Depalma said she’s likely to carry on the tradition with her children — but with the focus on the holiday and the faith she’s grown up loving.
“We’ll have Easter eggs and Easter baskets and we’ll do a little scavenger hunt,” she said. “But instead of having little Easter bunnies, I’ll have chocolate crosses and the focus will be on that this is the day that Jesus resurrected and how much Jesus loves you.
“It will be in simple ways as they’re younger, but much more in detail as they grow older.”
Depalma said she wants to bring her children to services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and make sure her children “know who Jesus is and why he died on the cross and how much he loves them.”
As a child, Depalma said her parents instilled a deep love of the religion into her, and “I want my children to have that same foundation of love.”
“When I was a kid, even though I knew it was about Jesus, I remember it being more about the scavenger hunt and the Easter eggs,” she said. “Now it’s much more than that. It’s a personal relationship with me and God. And I think Lent now is when I really try to focus on becoming closer to God and live my life that way and emulate the way Jesus lived his life.”