How does your family celebrate Easter without religion?

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Photo by JoshBerglund19, used under Creative Commons license.
Both my partner’s family and my family are Christian — but neither of us self-identify as such. We still want to honor our backgrounds and family traditions… but don’t want to involve religion.

We have an almost two-year-old son who we’ll be sharing the holiday with, so I’m interested in hearing what other families have done to celebrate with two-year-olds AND with older kids. — Jen

How are you celebrating your offbeat Easter this year — glittery eggs? Lemon bread for the Spring Equinox? Tell us tell us!

Comments on How does your family celebrate Easter without religion?

  1. I can’t give any advice based on experience because my daughter is about the same age as your son, so we haven’t really had to deal with it yet. However, it is something we’ve been thinking about because we are in the same boat as you – we were both raised as Christians, but don’t really consider ourselves religious.

    We are planning on celebrating all of the holidays we grew up with as cultural holidays rather than religious ones. So for Easter, I think we will stress the nature aspects of the celebration. We will talk about how spring has arrived, and the eggs and bunnies symbolize its “rebirth.” Christmas will be about charity and family, and we can tell the story of St. Nicholas donating gifts to orphan children.

    I’m sure once our daughter gets older she will ask about the religious meaning behind these holidays because of something she hears from a friend. When that happens we can explain that it is another valid interpretation of those holidays, but not one we stress.

    Like I said, I don’t know how this will really play out because kids will surprise you every chance they get 🙂 Just thought I would comment because this is something we have been talking about ourselves.

  2. We did secular celebrations in my house growing up for things like Easter and Christmas, and also talked about how people celebrate in different cultures/countries. For Easter we simply celebrated it as the return of Spring; we got Easter baskets with candy, socks, hair bows, stuffed animals etc, and sometimes did an egg hunt, and always colored eggs! Most of those “Christian” traditions are actually much older and more pagan than that anyway, so I have no problems using the same symbols of spring in our house. A fun tradition I just learned of this year is to plant Magic (Jelly) Beans in your yard on Easter Eve and see what “grows”. The next morning have your little ones discover that giant lollipops have sprung up overnight!

  3. Our family is also not religious and have decided that holidays are about making family memories and we celebrate with cultural aspects like the previous person said. Like for Easter we are setting out an Easter basket with books and healthy treats, we are also going to an egg hunt put on by my husbands work and we also planted some herbs in the front yard to celebrate spring. For us incorporating childhood favorites (like waking up to an Easter basket and egg hunt) mixed with celebrating the bounty of spring (going to the park when the tulips are sprouting or planting seeds to watch grow) are a way to celebrate without including the religion and still have a nice, appropriate holiday.

    • I feel I would be doing a disservice to my Christians-who-are-also-scientists friends to not point out that the two need not be mutally exclusive.

      For my own Christian (and only midly-sciency) self, I personally would have preferred getting science toys and books in my basket to pastel rabbits. 🙂

    • Wow…what a lazy, secular “it’s all about me” society we’ve become. Very sad. My family will be celebrating the absolute true resurrection of Jesus Christ!

  4. We have a two year old as well (aren’t they fun?) and neither of us are Christians either, so we work hard to bring our own meaning to the “Christian” holidays that we celebrate. Easter, for us, is a celebration of spring. Our son will be getting a small basket from the Easter Bunny full of eggs, a few new gardening tools, some bubbles and stickers, etc. We are doing an egg hunt with eggs full of seeds, and then planting the seeds (my Mom always did this with us as kids and it was one of my favorite things).

    • ooooh, I love the eggs full of seeds idea! Fun AND appropriately symbolic! (since the eggs are meant to represent the fertility of spring, traditionally). Will def have to start doing this next year!

  5. I grew up in Canada and it was really cold, so to a certain extent we really celebrated spring. I don’t think that I was even aware that Easter was a religious holiday until I was about 13.

    My family was hard core into the easter bunny. We would write him little notes and leave carrots out for him.

    When we woke up in the morning there would be a trail of tiny eggs and jelly beans leading from a window or door or fireplace and you could follow where he had hopped. Then therew would be a couple of baskets with candy in them near the carrots. We didn’t do Easter gifts, it was a candy-centered holiday (like spring Halloween… we only had candy in our house on these two holidays so it was a big treat).

    Then we would read the note from the Easter bunny and he would tell us that there was more candy that he had hidden and we should take our baskets and try to find it.

    My parents were really good hiders, so this took a while. Then afterwards we would decorate some eggs and go into a candy coma.

    • Yeah, I live in Newfoundland, Canada, and an outdoor Easter Egg hunt at that time of the year here is preposterous. There is still about 2 feet of snow on the ground here right now and we will still have more snow I’m sure. Also, Spring isn’t a thing that really happens in Newfoundland, there’s snow, there’s snow, there’s snow… Then all of a sudden within a week it’s gone and by then it’s usually June.

      So my family always did an indoor egg hunt. Mom would buy a bunch of chocolate easter eggs and hide them all over our house (Really funny, because sometimes she’s hade them so well that months later we would find an egg in a random place!) And also we would usually get some small presents like a new outfit for summer and some summer toys like beach toys.

      I do the same thing with my son. I’ve gotta bunch of chocolate eggs to hide for him to find and the present he’s getting this year is a cool water gun and an inflatable beach chair. 🙂

      The thing about Easter is that the traditions are so weird that it really works for non Christians. Eggs and rabbits. What the hell does that have to do with a dead Christ??? It works much better as a celebration of Spring.

      • Shout out to a fellow Newfie! I was telling a friend the other day about how we celebrated Shrove Tuesday (the day before Lent begins) back home with “Pancake Day”. Friend thought that eating pancakes for supper was quaint, but looked at me sideways when I explained about how if you found a coin in your pancake it meant you would be rich, or if you found a nail (friend’s jaw dropping) it meant you would be a carpenter,etc. I had a teacher who baked her engagement ring in the pancakes one year.
        Maybe not a tradition you want to pick up, but I had to laugh as I was remembering it.
        Also, in Newfoundland, we grew up playing a game that involved throwing sticks at your opponants as they stood frozen on the spot. Rugged folk, Newfie youngsters.

        • heh, I did both those things as a kid. I don’t put things in the pancakes, but me and my son always have pancakes for supper on pancake day!

    • I also grew up in Canada and had pretty much the same experience. Easter baskets, “egg” hunt (filled with candy), egg decorating, leaving carrots out for the Easter Bunny, nice family dinner with the fancy plates and napkins… Egg hunt was subject to the weather though. If it was too weathery outside the egg hunt was moved indoors, which provided far more interesting hiding places than outside anyway. When my parents moved we found 3 chocolate easter eggs from childhood hunts that hadn’t been found. One of the movers ate one (his choice, before we could toss them!) to see if it was still good. :S Eww

  6. My family is the same way. Typically what we do is have our own “fun” Easter on Saturday and then spend Sunday with our family and church. Tomorrow for example we are going to the Easter egg hunt at our local zoo. They are offering the free hunt along with free admission! Most towns offer deals like that if you really look for them. Another thing we have done in the past is play with cascarones. These are basically hollowed out eggs that are filled with confetti! It is a Mexican tradition that is supposed to bring good luck if you have one smashed on your head. One more suggestion that is more for older kids is marshmallow shooters! These are made with pvc pipes and tape, simply fill them with pastel Easter marshmallows and it’s automatically festive! I am also trying out the magic jelly beans this year and can’t wait to see the kids’ faces!

    • Confetti Eggs!!!!! I’ve been saving them since Lent started…. between my mom house, my brother’s house, and mine, we’ve already dyed 50, and we’re gonna do another batch tonight. Oh! I’m so eggcited to attack all of my family on Sunday. In my huge Mexican family, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you spend Easter running around acting like a Ninja with eggs. : )
      Also, since all of my cousins are grown up with their own kids now, we treat ourselves to a “beer hunt”. After the kids have their own easter egg hunt, our parents hide beer and we run around like mad animals to find them. Our kids always get a good laugh at us acting goofy!

      • Oh my God, I love the beer hunt. I’m totally going to remember this when we have little ones of egg-hunting age and need an activity for the parents. 😀

  7. The Easter Bunny visits and eats the carrots we’ve left for him. In return he leaves a basket of allergen free goodies and a couple of books. We have an Easter egg hunt and I cook a nice gluten/allergen free meal.

    Family doesn’t invite us anymore and we stay far away from any church, so we can basically do whatever we want.

  8. My husband and I are not religious in any way, so we really treat Easter as a fun family day. Our little guy isn’t old enough to appreciate this yet, but I think it’s very telling that these traditions started when my husband was tiny and have continued even in the absence of small children! We have an especially egg-heavy breakfast (usually some kind of quiche, omelettes to order, and custard pastries), then one generation hides decorated eggs for the others. We take turns every year, so we have to get VERY creative with hiding places! Once the eggs are all collected, we spend the afternoon together – outdoors if weather permits – and all help out prepping a huge mid-afternoon meal. When our son is old enough, his grandmother (the only churchgoer in the family) will share the story of Easter with him, and since Easter and Passover so often line up, we’ll probably have some interesting conversations about how his other grandparents celebrate this time of year. Mostly, we’ll just enjoy time together and then gorge on 50% off candy the next day!

  9. Although I don’t have any specific solutions, I just wanted to pop in and say that although I’m now an atheist, I was raised Catholic – and as a child, I never associated holiday traditions such as Easter or Christmas with religion. Strange though it might sound, most of the stuff we do to celebrate those holidays are pretty secular. I plan to do holiday stuff with my daughter, though she’ll be raised without religion. Dyeing eggs, eating chocolate, and partaking in the bevy of once-a-year Italian specialties that are only made at Easter will be a “spring celebration” for us. No religion necessary!

    • Oh, but! My town does an Easter hat parade, where kids can go downtown, make a fun hat and then wear it in the parade. Totally secular, but a really fun time for kids who are old enough to enjoy craft projects (and parading them around).

  10. Whooboy, lots of mamas of two year olds on this post! We’ve got a two year old here, too and we’re an agnostic (me) and Buddhist (husband) household so Easter has become a day of science.

    This year we’re planning on visiting a science museum, doing a nature hike and the obligatory Easter basket with more of a science theme.

    I think we’re also going to try to make terrariums… what two year old doesn’t love dirt?

  11. No kids yet, but I was never religious, now I’m just plain agnostic with a love of nature. Easter is all about Spring being here, going out for hikes/walks, being with family, and making delicious food. I’m making my first sernik this year (polish cheese cake), which is similar to the Easter pie my dad’s wife makes. Fun!!!!

  12. I find it interesting that the English and German names for the holiday (Easter and Ostern) are derived from the month Eostre in the old Germanic Calendar, which is named for a pagan goddess of the dawn. Most other languages call it something similar to Passover.

  13. I also don’t have any kids, but I was raised Christian and now identify as Pagan. This year instead of Easter we celebrated the Vernal Equinox with an egg party! We invited our friends and family over to our house and feasted on egg or egg-inspired dishes. Before the party we blessed the house and invited any ancestors or spirits to join the party. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of food, and I’m sure it could be adapted for kids really easily, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof). Also, for the past 3 years on Easter Sunday a few agnostic friends of mine and I have non-religion with Really Bad Movie Night (which I’m sure I don’t have to explain!) We bought bags and bags of our favorite Easter candy and feasted while we watched a movie marathon. It was awesome! And I’m sure kids would love it too (with healthier snacks, of course– I have four younger siblings, I wouldn’t wish toddlers high on diver on ANYONE). Just some ideas from a non-christian!

  14. Echoing what others have said- we treat this holiday as a welcoming of spring. We’ll do an egg hunt, and instead of candy filled baskets we are going to give each of our kids (4 and 6 years old) a small planters box with some flowers and seeds and gardening tools so they can each have a little garden to enjoy.

  15. I also don’t have any kids, but I was raised Christian and now identify as Pagan. This year instead of Easter we celebrated the Vernal Equinox with an egg party! We invited our friends and family over to our house and feasted on egg or egg-inspired dishes. Before the party we blessed the house and invited any ancestors or spirits to join the party. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of food, and I’m sure it could be adapted for kids really easily, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof). Also, for the past 3 years on Easter Sunday a few agnostic friends of mine and I have non-religion with Really Bad Movie Night (which I’m sure I don’t have to explain!) We bought bags and bags of our favorite Easter candy and feasted while we watched a movie marathon. It was awesome! And I’m sure kids would love it too (with healthier snacks, of course– I have four younger siblings, I wouldn’t wish toddlers high on sugar on ANYONE). Just some ideas from a non-christian!

  16. I love this discusion! I am a new new new mommy so my baby will not have a clue what is going on so we aren’t really doing anything except buying him a bunny, from his great grandma (who sent a card and a 20$ requesting me to do so haha). I was raised Catholic, and my grandma explains to me frequently I’m catholic till the pope excommunicates me, so my cries of atheism do not damn me to eternal hell fire in her eyes. I fully bought into the whole Christ dying part of easter, but never understood how that tied in with bunnys and chocolate. We’ll just be adopting the non-religious aspects of the holiday just like I do with the others. Holidays have always meant family time and not virgin birth etc…. so I think this holiday in particular is easy to co-op.

    • In your Catholic raising, they didn’t teach you that Easter is about the Resurrection of Christ? Because Resurrection is about coming back to life and the new life(after death) it represents for believers, it makes sense that the symbols of eggs (new life) and rabbits(fertility) traditionally associated with spring(the season of new life and even planty resurrection) would be appropriate also for this springtime holiday. Symbolic Interactionism? Cultural Diffusion? You could pose all sorts of reasons that rabbits and eggs have all sorts of things to do with Easter.

      I do mean this as a help because you said you never understood what these things had to do with each other. I do not mean it as an attack at all on your Catholic upbringing or your beliefs now. I too was raised Catholic…..and stayed that way.

      This conversation is very interesting to me. Across generations of people celebrating religious holidays in a secular way, how many of them will maintain those practices over three or more generations? Is the only tradition passed on the tradition of redefining holiday practices for oneself and stark individualism? Is generational redefinition of holidays equally common to religious families over generations (looking at my own I would say yes)? I find myself while expecting our first child wanting to re-define the holiday for my son and our little family unit in a way that very much emphasizes the religion of the holiday, the history of such symbols, and how both the use of these springtime symbols and traditions solidify our connection to the human experience throughout history. In my rather religious and large family, the family togetherness aspect(and the hard work involved in maintaining a reunion four generations later) has eclipsed the religious aspect. So…..maybe if secularism is your goal, don’t fret and just ride the wave. It seems to be washing over us all, even those of us who aren’t trying.

  17. I still haven’t decided whether to carry on the easter bunny/Santa traditions with my daughter (17 months) but I still want to celebrate in a non-religious way as well. This year I am starting a scavenger hunt to find her easter basket. She has a note on her high chair telling her to look in the fridge for her breakfast. In the fridge is her new lunchbox and another note. The notes all rhyme, but are easy to follow with the toddler to familiar places that she knows by name. The hardest one is a note leading outside to find all of the eggs (one of them has the next clue, but she doesn’t know which). Each hiding place has a small toy or book, and her basket has books, socks, healthy treats and a few pieces of candy. Hoping it will rock this year!

  18. It’s easy to celebrate “Christian ” holidays as a non Christian. Just revert back to it’s original meaning. My mom used to make me go to Passover mass, which confused the fuck out of me since we never went to church any other day of the year and we weren’t religious at all.

  19. Last week I started looking around for Easter shwag (wicker baskets, eco-friendly eggs, natural dye, books, etc.) and the prices were staggering. So I am thinking about looking for things on sale next week and celebrating next weekend instead, basing our activities on what’s on sale. I think this possibility is a side benefit of having a 2yo without siblings!

  20. Sorry, but this sort of rubs me the wrong way. You can’t “make Easter a nature holiday” because Easter is not nature holiday. It’s a religious holiday. Celebrating Easter without mentioning Jesus, crucifixion, and resurrection is a bit like celebrating Darwin’s birthday without mentioning Darwin, evolution or the HMS Beagle.

    I think you should be honest with your kids. Explain that Easter is a Christian holiday and that your family is not Christian. Frankly, from a secular perspective, Easter is a pretty minor holiday. I grew up in a non-religious household and we frequently forgot it was happening.

    • Easter started as a nature-based pagan holiday, so you could very easily make it back into a spring celebration, rather than what the christians turned it into.
      I was raised Roman Catholic, then went pagan for a while on my way to atheist with naturey-leanings. I think it’s entirely possible to celebrate easter/ostara without getting into the jesus thing, just keep it based in spring and rebirth of the world after winter. that’s where all the bunnies and eggs come from anyway and children are going to be a lot more exposed to bunnies and eggs than jesus imagery in the general public sphere.

      Edit to add: for my family, easter is a big holiday. even if it’s not a big deal secularly generally, if you have religious family, it can be a big deal and you’ll have to find a way to celebrate it that works within your belief system, just for the sake of family peace.

      • “Easter started as a nature-based pagan holiday, so you could very easily make it back into a spring celebration, rather than what the christians turned it into.”

        I think you’re thinking of May Day. Easter was directly linked to Passover, which is based on a lunar calendar, until the Council of Nicea fixed Easter to a quasi-lunar calendar. (Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.) But the idea that Easter began as a pagan holiday is false, unless the pagans you had in mind were the ancient Canaanites who pre-dated Jews.

        • I was thinking of Ostara/Eostre which was a pagan holiday that predated the introduction of christianity at least in the european part of the world, as I understand it. I don’t make a study of it but it was my understanding that that’s where the rabbits and eggs part of the celebration came in (and the name!). It may be that they got muddled together when the judeo-christian traditions got introduced to parts of the world that already had celebrations around the same time of year which would explain the mix of bunnies, eggs and christian imagery we have now. I think the idea that Easter is a purely christian celebration and it’s improper to celebrate it in a secular way is one I have an issue with. Since at least parts of it seem to have solid roots outside the christian tradition, I think it’s definitely okay to celebrate it outside of a religious tradition as long as you’re only doing the easter bunny egg hunt type stuff and not using any religious imagery in a disrespectful way.
          For me, the point really is that regardless of where it came from, things become a part of secular life outside of a sacred tradition and I think it’s okay to take part in those celebrations and make them your own because they all come from somewhere else further down the line.

        • Just to chuck in my two cents as someone who has studied paganism for several years – Ostara and May Day (Beltane) are both spring festivals of fertility that having some bearing on modern Easter! Pagans love festivals and have at least eight in the year! The word Easter definitely derives from Ostara, which was originally celebrated around the vernal equinox. You can roughly equate Ostara to a ‘preparation’ festival – celebrating ovulation, hence the eggs! – and Beltane as a ‘fulfilment’ festival, celebrating fertilisation and new life being created. Whilst the celebration of the resurrection is a separate and distinct tradition, you can’t deny that modern Easter has got all of these things rather mixed up. So if people aren’t Christian and want to have a spring/egg/fertility festival at Easter time, I don’t think it needs to rub anyone the wrong way.

  21. A lot of the suggestions on what to do when you have religious families but aren’t religious yourself are great.

    I’m kind of interested in hearing what people tell their children (2,3,4,5+ year olds) about the holidays? My fiance and I are expecting our first at the end of this month and we are both pagan, while my family is all Christian and I am very close with them so we will be spending all holidays with them but I’m not sure how to teach a young child that, while we are celebrating with family we aren’t celebrating the religious aspects?

    • We spent Christmas and Easter with my mom’s Catholic family every year, when I was growing up. My mom often explained things to me in the car on the way to or from grandma’s house, either because I asked, or because she anticipated me wondering. I knew I could ask my grandma, too, but that I might be sorry if I did 😀 In short, we were just always given the “Different people have different beliefs, and we do our best to respect everyone’s beliefs.” I don’t recall ever having any problems or conflict.
      I think the right course of action here probably depends a lot on your family. Will they be mad if the kids don’t join in prayer? Do they want to force their beliefs on your kids?
      There’s also the possibility that your kids might want to engage in the religious practices of your larger family, and then you have to decide how you feel about it. I tried going to (Latin!) mass with my grandparents a few times and I was very quickly over it.
      I also taught at a religious school, where (oddly) most of the kids were not actually of the school’s religion. I found my mom’s tactic of emphasizing tolerance very effective with all sorts of kids (of course, you have to say it more than once, and practice what you preach). The other thing that helped was emphasizing some of the common beliefs that all religions share (kindness, generosity, etc.).

  22. My mom used to do a few things:
    1. She would get us to find little chocolate eggs all over the house.
    2. She would leave us rhyming clues that we had to follow to find our Easter baskets (my favorite thing, I remember finding my basket in the dryer one year! When my brother was young she would draw picture clues instead.)
    3. We’d colour hard-boiled eggs the night before and eat them the next day.

  23. Just one word of warning. I grew up in a non-religious family and the first time I encountered the cruxifiction story it upset me more than I can put into words. It was at school- I didn’t sleep properly for weeks, nightmares and all kinds of awfulness. Even the golden-book version of the cruxifiction is very graphic.

    I suggest at an appropriate age (ie before others are going to expose your child to it) you make sure you expose your child to a toned-down version of the cricifiction so that they don’t get too scared by it. Even if it’s not your religion thhey will be exposed to it, and better they learn it from you (perhaps with a “some people believe this happened” at the beginning) than from someone else. I was truly, truly horrified by it.

    Sorry if that offends anyone- but it really, really shook my little five-year-old world in a very bad way.

    • I have a 1 year old and I am just waiting for the day when hr discovers the “artwork” hanging in my parents home. LOTS of Jesus prints and one very large (2×3 feet)crucifixion reenactment photo above the fireplace. It’s in black and white and is complete with blood, sweat and a crown of thorns. Creeps ME out and I an 28.

      • I remember we got the whole story at school- the beating, the scrubbing, the spearing, the probably heart-attack- the works. Why o why would you tell that to a 5 yr old?

        Meanwhile- I suddenly remember why my parents always needed to get that thing off the top of the tv right after the news (blocking my view of the tv) when the inevitable re-inactments would have been shown lol.

        You can’t say they didn’t try to protect me on that one!

        Meanwhile the only actual time I’ve heard the proper stations of the cross was one year when I dragged my Mother to a midnight mass at Christmas (it sounded so cool) and it turns out the minister must have been drunk! Yeah- even I know that’s not what you are supposed to do at Christmas!

        (Massive apologies to anyone for whom the crucifiction forms a massive part of their religious beliefs. I mean no disrespect- in fact I really do admire your faith.).

        • I grew up Catholic, went to a private Catholic school, the works. We did stations of the cross every year at easter time, I usually did them more than once a year, because we did them at school, church and I was in the choir so I went to more than one mass for most major holidays (lucky me.) I don’t remember ever being scared by them. I remember actually liking them, because they were one of the few times outside of choir, we got to really participate in the religious services. I did always think it was a strange story, but I was never scared. I think generally the stations are presented in a factual-but-not-overly-graphic way, at least where I grew up.

  24. I’m Jewish, but we do commercial Easter just like we do commercial Christmas. My whole family gets together for a cookout, the smaller children search for candy filled eggs, and some one usually brings fireworks. The kids get a larger basket full of goodies, and my parents still give us “older kids” a small basket with a gift card or really nice chocolates. We don’t really bring up religion. If someone asks, we answer their questions in an age friendly way. We don’t go into the whole Christian crucifix details.
    I remember when I was a kid I went to a friends house around Easter and saw all their decorations, cute fluffy chicks, bright plastic eggs, smiling chocolate bunnies and then there was a picture of a bloody dead guy on a cross. It honestly scared the crap out of me. Please, I mean no offense to anyone, but at 7 I just couldn’t understand why on earth someone would put that in their home. So based on my experiences, we just answer things as they come up. Plus, the little little kids get bored if you go into too much detail and block it out, or get distracted.

    • I understand why you at 7 would be upset by the imagery but remember that Passover isn’t exactly a happy story either. Slaying a bunch of male babies is a pretty gruesome story line. As a child my parents would have to delicately explain that one- what a mess!

      I’ve yet to meet a Jew who actually celebrates “Easter,” so I find this comment very interesting.

      • I get that a lot. LOL. I think I was very lucky that we celebrated different holidays, it opened up conversations that I don’t think would have happened otherwise. I was fortunate that my family was open about other’s cultures.
        We always knew what Passover really was about, but a crucified Jesus was honestly the first time I had seen any kind of iconography like that!

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