Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40-day Lenten period. As described in Beliefnet.com:
“Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a penitential season observed by many Christians. While the exact date of Ash Wednesday varies from year to year, it is always in either the month of February or March, depending on where Easter falls in the liturgical year.
On Ash Wednesday, worshippers attend services at which they receive ashes on their foreheads. The pastor (or priest) marks the forehead of each worshipper, often saying, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."
Ash Wednesday is considered a “day of fasting and abstinence” – a practice which is encouraged and continued during the succeeding days of Lent (abstinence [meaning abstaining from meat] is for people of ages 14 and older, and fasting is for people ages 18-59).
In fact, one who tries searching for “family Lenten traditions” online may be overwhelmed at all the links that come up. There are, in fact, many traditions and observances that one’s family can do to have a more meaningful, “personalized” Lenten season (and Easter celebration).
Before going on to our pick of family Lenten traditions though, you may also want to refer to the “checklist” below, inspired by Lacy Rabideau, the mom blogger behind Catholicicing.com. Hopefully, this will help you prepare for Lent in a deeper way:
1. As a family, try to talk about what you’re “giving up” for Lent. However, Ms. Rabideau says that although “giving something up” for Lent is a traditional practice, each family member can also do more of certain things too, like saying extra prayers, going to Mass during weekdays (aside from regular Sunday Mass), and doing more “acts of kindness” to others. (In this writer’s case, being more patient, forgiving and understanding of my spouse and kids would certainly be on the list too!)
2. Consider using a Lenten “countdown calendar,” similar to an Advent calendar. This is a visible way for both parents and children to “count down” the 40 days to Easter. An example of a printable Lenten calendar for children can be found here.
3. Make plans for Ash Wednesday. Most Catholic Filipino families usually observe the practice of going to Mass on this day but why not go one step further by explaining the meaning of the practice of placing ashes on the forehead to your kids before you attend Mass? Here are some ideas.
• If you haven’t already done so, begin the practice of almsgiving as a family. Involve your children by making an offering box. For older kids, you can also ask them to help choose a charity or organization that they would like to make donations to during Lent. To be more socially relevant, you may want to donate to the victims of the recent calamities that struck out country.
• For Catholics, make time to go to Confession. You can even make this a “family activity” by going together with your kids. For a children’s guide to going to confession, click here. Older kids and parents may find the guide here useful as well.
• Make your shopping lists in advance and stock up your pantries or food cupboards for “meatless-meal” groceries and simple foods, since Catholics are encouraged not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent or on Ash Wednesday. For Lenten meal inspirations, you may refer to the Catholic Cuisine blog here.
• Make plans and commit to participate in your local parish’s Stations of the Cross services. These are usually done every Friday. You can also do your own Stations of the Cross at home. Ms. Rabideau has compiled some wonderful ideas for DIY Stations of the Cross on her blog here andhere.
Explain to your children that Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, which is the greatest celebration in the Church (yes, even greater than Christmas!). Tell them that Easter is the time when Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death and sin forever. For more inspiration, read the Easter Story.