Many holiday dates are set in stone. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's come to mind. Easter and Passover, both religious celebrations of hope, are somewhat different. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection and symbolizes humanity’s hope for eternal life. It always follows the first full moon after the spring equinox. This year it falls on Sunday, April 16.
The Passover recalls the marking of the doors with a swath of lamb’s blood indicating the home of an enslaved Jew. Tradition has the angel of death passing over after the Pharaoh refused to free the Jews. Based on the Hebrew calendar, it usually falls around Easter time. This year the eight day celebration began on Monday, April 10 and ends two days after Easter on Tuesday, April 18.
Much like our set holidays, the foods we use to celebrate are also set. The standard for Thanksgiving is turkey. For Christmas it’s ham and for the New Year's we feast on pork and Sauer Kraut. Easter and Passover meals also consist of traditional foods. To Christians, Easter means ham or lamb. For the Passover, it’s the seder meal.
With a brown sugar basted Easter ham, Mom served candied sweet potatoes, homemade buttered egg noodles, home-canned green beans, home-canned corn, pickled red beets and red beet eggs, a colored Easter egg and biscuits. And then she’d dole out either warm homemade apple cinnamon or raisin pies or a freshly baked devil’s food cake with peanut butter icing.
While we favored ham over lamb, traditionally lamb is served with mint jelly. It’s also served with various potato sides such as potato hash with chopped green peppers and diced onions, and sides of fresh vegetables.
Due to religious restrictions, Jews would never think of setting a Passover table with ham. Celebrating Passover, they retell the story of the Exodus and enjoy a festive home meal with family and friends. For Jews, it’s a widely practiced ritual, even among non-observant Jews.
In Israel, the Seder is held the first night of Passover, while in the Diaspora (elsewhere) it’s celebrated on the first two nights of the holiday. Pesach, as the Passover is known in Hebrew, always occurs in the spring.
At the Seder table, a special book called the Haggadah is read out loud. The Haggadah includes the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt as well as Seder rituals and traditions. The Seder Plate holds small portions of several ritual foods which are tasted at various points during the reading.
Karpas, a raw vegetable or herb, often parsley, is included on the Seder plate. It’s eaten dipped in salt water. The raw green represents spring. The salt water symbolizes tears of Israelite slaves. Charoset, a mixture of fruit, nuts, and wine is meant to represent the mortar used by the slaves in Egypt.
A roasted egg is included on the Seder plate, and represents the festival offering brought to the Temple in ancient Jerusalem. Since eggs are symbolic of the life cycle, many serve hard boiled eggs in salt water at the start of the festive meal.
On another plate, or tucked into or special cloth envelope with three sections, are three matzot, which represent Cohen, Levi, and Yisrael. These are the three social groups that make up the Jewish people.
Setting out a cup of water for the prophetess Miriam, Moses' sister, is a newer tradition. It acknowledges the importance of women in the Passover narrative. Miriam provided a spring of fresh water for the Israelites during their desert wanderings after the Exodous from Egypt; hence the water in her Seder cup.
After the reading of the Haggadah, a festive kosher-for-Passover meal is eaten made from traditional seder meal foods. They include haroset, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, sweet brisket, roasted potatoes, red cabbage, colorful cauliflower, roasted asparagus and dried fruit compote.
Whatever religion you follow, to all my reading friends in "Outtakes" land, Peggy and I wish you the very best this holy and blessed season.
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