Passover is a cherished holiday that has been celebrated by the Jews for thousands of years. It’s one of the biggest holidays of the year so if you’re not familiar with the holiday or celebrating it for the first time, here is everything you need to know about celebrating Passover!
What Is Passover?
Passover is a holiday in the Spring that celebrates the story of the Jewish peoples’ redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt. What date the holiday falls on is determined by the Jewish calendar, which follows the lunar cycle. The holiday lasts for eight days, and this year Passover is from April nineteenth through the twenty-seventh. There are different traditions to be followed throughout the holiday that directly tie into the Passover story.
The Passover Story
The biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt and can be found in the book of Exodus in the Jewish Torah. However, if you don’t have time to read through the bible here’s a short summary.
Because of a famine, many Israelites traveled to Egypt during the time when Joseph was a prophet. After her died, the Jews continued to live in Egypt and their population grew. The new Pharaoh of Egypt became worried that if Egypt were under attack that the Israelites would join forces with their enemies. As a solution, he forced them into slavery and started throwing all the male infants into the Nile river.
One mother had a son and named him Moses. With the assistance of her other children, Miriam and Aaron, she put him in a basket and put it in the river, hoping someone would find him. Luckily, Moses was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a prince in the palace with no knowledge of his Jewish background. Moses grows up and one day he kills an Egyptian guard who was striking a Hebrew slave. Fearing for his live, Moses flees to the desert.
In the desert, Moses makes a new life for himself as a Shepard. One day, he sees a flaming bush. This bush is actually God trying to communicate with Moses. God tells Moses he must go back to Egypt and save the Israelites, which he agrees to after some misgivings.
Moses returns to Egypt and asks the Pharaoh to let his people go. He refuses and Moses warns him that there will be awful plagues until he lets the Hebrews go, but he continues to refuse. Ten plagues befall Egypt; blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, locust, cattle death, boils, hail, darkness and the death of every first born son. The final plague convinces Pharaoh to let them go and the Israelites run with only what they can carry. They leave with unleavened bread on their back, hence the eating of Matzah.
Once the Israelites have fled, Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his army after them. In order to escape, Moses asks for the help of God and suddenly the Red Sea splits in front of them, giving them a path to cross. Once they have gotten to the other side, the waves come crashing back down again. The people rejoice, but are reminded to mourn all the Egyptians that have died.
This story is the center of Passover because it reminds the Jewish people that if it were not for Moses and God, they could still be slaves in Egypt.
The seder is the meal that celebrates the holiday and serves to tell the Passover Story. It is usually held during the first, second, or last night of Passover, but most people prefer to have their seder at the start of the holiday. At the seder, a special book called the Haggadah is read to help guide the seder and it provides all the prayers to be said during the meal.
In the center of the table is a seder plate. Each item represents a part of the Passover story and is explained at the beginning of the Seder. The ten plagues are also recounted as well as the amazing escape from Egypt. After the initial prayers and telling of the story, dinner is served. There are some traditional meals like brisket that may be served but each family usually has their own tradition for what meal is served.
After the meal, there are more prayers and songs that finish up the seder and a hunt for a hidden piece of matzah. The seder is ceremonial and only done once during the holiday.
The Rest Of The Week
During the rest of the week of Passover, a special diet is followed to pay homage to the Israelites that escaped from Egypt. To keep Kosher for Passover, you cannot have any bread or any food products with flour because the Israelites did not have that during their escape from Egypt. Instead of bread, we eat Matzah, which is the kind of bread that they would have had. This diet is followed for the entirety of Passover until the last night.
The rest of the week is about spending time with family and eating lots of Matzah, so it’s a holiday that brings everyone together!