"How will we ever have it ready on time?" was a lament I heard over and over again that last week. But once again plans were completed and by Sunday butterflies fluttered from trees and smells of popcorn, pancakes, and hot cross buns rose from the kitchen. A table depicting the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples was placed in a corner of the room. And all was ready for the first visitor for our Lenten Fair.
The fair began as an idea generated in a meeting. Our need for more intergenerational programs and to learn more about Lent motivated us to plan a special event during Lent. We wanted to plan a program in which people could participate instead of just observe. After some discussion about different . possibilities, we decided to begin making plans for our first Lenten Fair.
We began by sending personal invitations to people in the church (or you can use an online evite system). We invited each group to develop a specific learning center for the fair. We suggested some ideas for developing activities around Lenten symbols, but people added other ideas as their imaginations were sparked. The only restriction was that the center be re.lated to the Lenten season.
We attribute the success of the fair to the involvement of so many persons-planning, set ting up, and participating. We used a variety of ways to make the five senses come alive. Through these activities we learned new information about Lent, and we experienced the joy of learning with others.
I have helped to plan Lenten fairs in three churches of different sizes. And in each church the idea of a Lenten Fair was first looked at skeptically. But then as people got excited about the possibilities, nothing could stop them. The learning about the Lenten season that took place, both by those who prepared for the fair and those who participated, was tremendous. In all three churches, persons of all ages participated and gained a deeper understanding of the Lenten season.
We included these foods and crafts in our Lenten fairs; what ideas can you add? Here are some ideas and activities that we used for learning centers:
- Plant "New Life Seeds." Planting seeds in the ground remind us of the burial of Christ in the tomb. And the flowers remind us of new birth. Ask people to plant a seed and take it home as a reminder of new beginnings.
- Make crosses of nails. The cross is a symbol of the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus for each one of us. But it is also a symbol of the suffering which was turned into joy. Tie two square nails together in the shape of a cross. Children can use purple yarn to hold the nails together with the rest of the yarn serving as a chain to be worn around the neck.
- Decorate eggs. The egg is an ancient symbol of fertility and new birth. As Christians we see the egg as a symbol of the Resurrection. As you roll the eggs tell the children that this is symbolic of the rolling away of the stone on Easter morning. Decorate the eggs in the traditional ways with dye, or try painting or coloring them with crayons.
- Make hot cross buns and pretzels. A special cross made from white icing decorates the buns. Pretzels, first developed in Germany to be eaten on fast days, are made of flour, salt, and water. Pretzels are shaped in the form of arms folded in prayer.
- Watch popcorn change. A tiny, hard kernel of corn suddenly bursts forth when heat is added. This tiny kernel is an appropriate symbol for this season when the warmth of the sun and the love of God cause all of nature and our own lives to burst forth in new life!
- Make pancakes. To get ready to abstain from eating meat and dairy products during Lent, Christians in the Middle Ages baked pancakes using butter and milk. And then they celebrated on the evening before Ash Wednesday. This is the meaning of "Fastnacht," eve of the fast. In French, the word is Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. This day is also known as "Shrove Tuesday" from the word shriving or confessing of sins.
- Create tissue paper butterflies. The butterfly is a symbol of new life and freedom. Children enjoy crushing together two square pieces of colored tissue paper to make butterfly wings. Colored pipe stem cleaners around the middle become the antennas and feelers. Place butterflies in a "tree" or let the children wear them as a decorative pin. You can also use wooden clothes pins for the butterfly body.
- Set a table with the Seder Meal. The Seder or Passover meal commemorates the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. It is an important observance in the Jewish faith and in our own Christian heritage. Our Communion meal comes from the last Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples. Foods used to symbolize the more complete Seder meal include a roasted shank bone of lamb, a roasted egg, horseradish, charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine), parsley, salt water, matzoth or unleavened bread, four cups of wine, and the Cup of Elijah, a tall goblet placed in the center of the table. Research the meanings of each of the foods used for the meal and the ritual that accompanies the meal. Set the table and include index cards near each food with short descriptions of what it represents.
- Tell the story of Lent. Using construction paper cut symbols for Lent out and let the children tell what each symbol represents. You may also want to include time to read the scriptures from a children's Bible. You will this information is new to many adults too!
Look for other symbols that represent the Lenten season. Other Lenten symbols include the dogwood tree, the palm leaf, a crown of thorns, a rooster, dice, money bags and silver coins. Explore the meanings of these symbols and find other ideas to include in your own Lenten Fair.