Fall and Winter Church Year Celebrations at Home

Holy Week of 2020 was … different. It came at the end of a Lenten season that seemed about five years long, thanks to the chaotic and ever-changing coronavirus pandemic. By the time Holy Week rolled around, my family had been in quarantine for a month, and there was no end in sight. My husband, a pastor, had been working nonstop during that month, trying to keep the congregation connected to worship and learning opportunities. But Holy Week was going to be an entirely different kind of challenge.

How could he and the rest of the ministry team help congregation members learn and grow in faith if they weren’t going to be together during the holiest of weeks? Usually, we’d gather together for worship and other special events on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and then Easter Sunday’s festival celebration. This year, we were all sequestered at home, scattered and isolated.

In the end, in addition to offering livestreamed worship services, our congregation sent a “Holy Week at Home” packet to each household. It included a daily devotion, a guide for how to set up a home altar, some small items such as a palm leaf, a few votive candles, and suggestions for other items to find each day and bring to the altar to help visualize the passion narrative. It was not the traditional Holy Week I was used to, but it was a very good and blessed Holy Week nonetheless.

How might you continue this kind of different but good? How might you bring more Church Year celebrations to life in your home? If you already have a home altar set up, great! If not, consider hanging a cross or placing one on a shelf or side table (our Holy Week at Home altar area was well out of reach of the two-year-old’s grasping hands). Keep a child-friendly Bible close by to include even the youngest readers in the house in the reading of Scripture. Incorporate your Church Year celebrations into a daily family devotion or your children’s daily distance learning routine. Schedule video calls with grandparents so they can take part in your observances and invite them to read from a children’s Bible or share a favorite memory from their own childhood of growing up in church and celebrating these holy days. However you mark these days, make the Church Year part of the regular family routine—let the Christian calendar shape your family’s life together as you follow Christ, our Lord.

Here are just a few ideas for upcoming fall and winter Church Year observances.  

Reformation Day

  • Make a homemade version of Martin Luther’s seal by simply coloring a printout—or by crafting something more elaborate.

  • Create a banner that reads, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). This Scripture verse was transformative in Martin Luther’s life. Challenge your family to memorize it.

  • Spend time each week of October leading up to Reformation Day learning about one of the solas of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone.

All Saints’ Day

  • Gather a collection of photos of Christian family members and ancestors or create a Christian family tree. In your family prayers, thank God for these faithful men and women who rest now in Christ.

  • This might be a great day to plan a video call with a grandparent or great-grandparent. Let them tell stories about what it was like growing up in the Church when they were young. If they came to faith as an adult, have them talk about some of the people who shared Jesus with them.

St. Nicholas Day

  • Give small gifts to honor the generosity of Nicholas, a great Christian pastor and the inspiration for Christmas traditions of giving around the world. This is always the day my children get gifts in their Christmas stockings. Other traditions include leaving a shoe outside one’s bedroom door or at the hearth. Make sure the simple gifts appear before morning on December 6! You might also include a candy cane (reminiscent of a bishop’s staff) or chocolate coins.

  • Bake spekulatius (German spice cookies) cut in the shape of a bishop and decorated with frosting as desired. Share the baked treats with neighbors and friends.

  • Read Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer with your family.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

  • Embrace the whole season of Christmas: a full twelve days to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as often as you can stand it (the version by John Denver and The Muppets is a favorite in our house with the under-eight crowd). Be sure to save some of the cookie-baking and present-giving and feasting for days two through twelve!

  • Journey with the Magi. It might seem silly, but I like to have my nativity scene wise men start off in the easternmost corner of the living room and slowly make their way towards the manger over the course of the Christmas season—each day just a little bit closer, following the star. As our boys get older, I hope they can appreciate the playful drama.

And I hope these ideas spark more of your own, as you bring the Church Year to life in your home. May God bless your celebrations in the coming months!

Scripture: ESV®.

Explore the Lutheran Church Calendar and …

Look forward in the Church Year

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Written by

Caitlin Dinger

Caitlin is a director of Christian education with twenty years of experience in congregational and outdoor ministries. She is wife to a pastor and mom to three little boys. Caitlin enjoys gardening, home preserving, Jane Austen, and photography. Her life is powered by a lot of forgiveness and a lot of coffee.

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