Each year on Palm Sunday we make an Easter garden at home. It holds a central spot on our seasonal table throughout Holy Week and it is a wonderfully simple way to convey the complicated message of Easter to little ones.
We are a Christian household with a desire to connect to pagan traditions. I find that this garden is a great way to open up your mind to the wonders of the Easter story through using nature’s example of reincaration and new life.
On Palm Sunday we build our garden.
First gather your bits and bobs:
- A rectangluar tray with shallow sides (we use an old swiss roll baking tray)
- A tree shaped twig
- A lump of clay, plasticine etc
- A selection of pebbles, shells and rocks
- A small glass dish
- Pinecones (optional)
- Ash (optional, from Ash Wednesday)
- Seeds (we used forget-me-nots this year)
- 6 birthday cake candles
- A tea light (we got ours from Dalit)
Fill your tray with the compost and shape to form a path. Place so the short edge is at the front.
Form the clay around the base of the tree to allow it to stand up.
Place the tree in the garden to the back right and built up the compost around it.
Using the rocks and bark build a tomb in the middle towards the back of your tray.
Using a selection of pretty pebbles lay a simple path leading to the tomb. We used sea glass we found on the beach last summer. Pop your glass dish in place to form a pond.
Arrange your moss in your garden, leaving some bare earth for the seeds.
Now, on Ash Wednesday I put a bowl of ash from our wood burner on the nature table. It’s sat there, unremarked on, throughout Lent. We took some of this ash and mixed it into the compost in our Easter garden. Don’t worry if you haven’t got any this year, but maybe remember for next year. Ash is a symbol that helps to comprehend the Easter story, as the burnt useless remains help to bring new life to the earth.
We then sowed some wild flower seeds into the ash and compost and around the garden – hopefully they will grown and sprout by Easter Sunday!
We added a bark bridge to the pond and some pretty shells and stones into the bottom of the glass dish.
Place a tea light in the entrance to the tomb – far enough out that you won’t set fire to the bark roof. Give the garden a really good soaking and fill up the glass dish ‘pond’. You’ll need to keep on top of this over the next week.
If you have some pinecones sprinkle some seeds inside and then soak well so they close up. Add them to the garden and hopefully by Easter Sunday you’ll have some tufty green cones!
Arrange your six birthday candles evenly along the path to the tomb, you’ll light the furthest away one first.
Throughout Holy Week we countdown using the candles.
Starting on Palm Sunday we light the tea light, and then light the furthest away birthday candle using the flame from it. We do this during our family dinner so we can keep an eye on it (don’t leave it unattended please). At the end of the meal we remove the birthday candle.
We repeat this each evening during our family dinner gradually working our way through the candles going closer to the tomb.
On Good Friday we make our caterpillars.
We made our caterpillars from beeswax modelling wax, one for each member of the household. If you make your caterpillars earlier they can placed in the garden on the moss.
At the end of Good Friday before bedtime, when the last birthday candle has burnt down, the caterpillars are wrapped in scraps of fabric (ideally white) and laid inside the tomb.
If you want you can reuse the caterpillars each year – I put ours away safely in a little box and the girls love getting them out and remembering who made each one!
On Easter Saturday the caterpillars have disappeared.
There are no candles to burn down today, to represent a day of stillness and waiting. To help the children contemplate the story the caterpillars have vanished, but the scraps of fabric remain in the tomb. As the children get older they will question and ponder on the mystery – my 11 year old is full of thoughts this year!
On Easter Sunday the garden comes to life.
Simple paper butterflies hang from the tree – one for each caterpillar. It’s amazing how nature shows us how something that appears dead can be reborn in such a magnificent way.
The seeds sown on Palm Sunday should be sprouting, and tiny vases of wild flowers can be added to the garden. We also hang painted wooden eggs from the ‘tree’ and add felt bunnies and hares and some tiny foil eggs in the garden.
Ideally the garden is tranformed before the children see the garden – so it might work best to do it before you go to bed on Saturday!