Passover is a major Jewish religious holiday commemorating the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. The holiday is also known as Pesach in Hebrew.
According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for several centuries until Moses, with the help of God, led them out of Egypt in the Exodus. As they were leaving Egypt, they did not have enough time to let their bread rise, so they had to bake unleavened bread or matzah, which is now a traditional food eaten during Passover.
Passover is observed for eight days and begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. During this time, Jews refrain from eating leavened bread or other foods containing leavening agents, such as yeast or baking powder, and instead eat matzah, bitter herbs, and other symbolic foods. The holiday includes a special seder meal, during which the story of the Exodus is retold and celebrated with family and friends.
What is the seder?
The Passover seder is a special meal held on the first two nights of Passover (in Israel, the seder is held only on the first night). It is a time for families and friends to gather together to retell the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt and to celebrate the holiday.
Several traditional foods are served for this meal, including (but not limited to):
- Beitzah: a roasted or hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the offering that was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Brisket: This is a slow-cooked beef dish that is often served as a main course during the Passover seder.
- Charoset: This is a sweet mixture of chopped nuts, apples, wine, and spices. It is eaten as a symbol of the mortar the Israelites used to build structures for the Egyptians during their enslavement.
- Gefilte fish: This dish is made of ground fish (usually carp or whitefish) mixed with onions, matzah meal, and eggs. It is typically served as an appetizer.
- Karpas: a vegetable, such as parsley or celery, symbolizing springtime and new beginnings.
- Kosher wine or grape juice: Wine or grape juice is an integral part of the Passover seder, and many families will open a special bottle of wine or grape juice to mark the occasion. Giving a bottle of kosher wine or grape juice as a gift can be a way to share in the celebration.
- Matzah: As mentioned briefly above, matzah is unleavened bread that is eaten during Passover. It is a central part of the holiday and is used in many traditional dishes.
- Matzah ball soup: This is a soup made with matzah meal dumplings, chicken broth, and vegetables. It is a popular dish during Passover.
- Maror (Bitter herbs): These are typically served as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery. Horseradish is a common bitter herb that is eaten during Passover.
- Zeroa: a roasted lamb shank bone or a roasted chicken neck, symbolizing the Paschal sacrifice.
Some of the traditional customs associated with the holiday and seder include:
- Haggadah: The Haggadah is the text that is used to guide the seder. It contains the story of the Exodus, as well as prayers, blessings, and songs that are sung throughout the meal.
- Rituals and prayers: The seder includes several rituals and prayers, such as the washing of hands, the recitation of the Four Questions, and the search for the afikoman.
What about gifts or games?
Passover is not typically associated with gift-giving in the same way that other religious holidays, such as Hanukkah or Christmas, are. However, it usually includes a bit of fun. Several games are typically played during Passover, some designed to help teach the story and lessons of the holiday.
Some of those games include:
- Afikoman hunt: The afikoman is a piece of matzah hidden during the Passover seder and meant to be found by the children at the end of the meal. The child who finds the afikoman receives a small prize.
- Four questions: During the seder, the youngest child asks four questions about why the night differs from all other nights. This is meant to encourage children to participate in the seder and learn about the holiday.
- Matzah relay race: In this game, participants divide into teams and take turns racing to complete different tasks while holding a piece of matzah. The first team to finish all the tasks wins.
- Passover trivia: This game involves asking questions about Passover and Jewish history. Players can work individually or in teams to answer the questions, and the person or team with the most correct answers wins.
- Ten plagues game: This game involves acting out the ten plagues that God inflicted on Egypt to help the Israelites escape. Participants take turns acting out each plague while the others guess what it is.
Overall, Passover is a rich and meaningful Jewish tradition that brings families and communities together to celebrate the holiday.
“Chag Pesach Sameach!”
Have you ever observed Passover or been to a seder? Do you know someone that does? What is your favorite dish? Let us know in the comments!