Every year of my adult life, I have celebrated Passover at my mom’s house, who always hosts a big Seder for the first night. My Uncle Scott is very religious and usually runs the show. When we were younger, we would always go to my aunt’s house, so I have never spent a Passover without my mom or my sister. The kids look forward to it every year because they get to see all their cousins and it’s awesome having family members from all sides at the same table, Mike’s mom included. My mom handles pretty much everything and just tells guests to bring wine or dessert. This means that Mike and I have never cooked traditional Passover dishes and we don’t own any of the traditional items that one would usually put on the table to celebrate, like a Seder plate, matzah covers or candlesticks.
Obviously, Grammy’s Seder couldn’t happen this year and all of our relatives who would usually be at the table had to do their own thing. In the days leading up to the first night, it was sad to think about. Were we even going to celebrate this year? Would our Seder be a big conference call? What would we eat?
For my non-Jewish readers, Passover is a holiday to celebrate the Jews escaping slavery in Egypt and to thank God for our freedom. The purpose of the Seder is really to teach your children the story behind Passover, so that we never forget how lucky we are to be sitting around a table having a big meal with our family. That’s why it incorporates things like songs, the symbolism on the Seder plate, the four questions (which the youngest child reads), the representation of the plagues and hiding the matzah. This is all done to simplify the story and so it can hold their interest.
Since I was a kid (and every Jewish kid will tell you this), one of my favorite parts of Passover is the 10 Plagues. You dip your pinky in red wine for each plague (like boils, lice, darkness, locusts, etc.) which, as the story goes, are all things God afflicted on Egypt to punish the Pharaoh for refusing to free the slaves.
The Coronavirus actually makes Passover feel even more significant because in a way, it is our 11th plague. People are dying and the way we live in our world will be forever changed as a result. We are staying home to stop the spread of the virus. That’s a sacrifice that makes us appreciate our freedom.
I didn’t think I would say this, but our first night of Passover felt extra special this year. Both because of the global sacrifices everyone is making around the world for the sake of the human race, and because watching my family come up with resourceful ways to uphold our traditions even when we couldn’t all celebrate in person was a beautiful thing. I mean, isn’t that how most traditions start? There wasn’t a Seder plate in biblical times; it was developed over time to make it easier for us to keep our faith. Having to find a way to continue your rituals even in the absence of those things and away from extended family (who maybe take a big hand in leading those traditions) really makes you think about the underlying meaning.
Since we don’t have a Seder plate at our house, Harlow created one with a paper plate and markers.
Mike made his very first matzah balls and tried to replicate Grammy’s brisket because it’s Mazzy’s favorite dish. Luckily, we already had lots of matzah in the house because Mike had ordered it way ahead of time. Matzah, by the way, is eaten because the Jews had to leave Egypt in a hurry, before they had time to wait for their bread to rise. So, traditionally, Jews don’t eat any food with yeast or leavening for the whole week of Passover.
I made charoset for the first time, because mixing chopped raw items in a bowl is the extent of my cooking abilities. Jewish tradition is to spread the charoset on matzah, which is symbolic of the bricks and mortar the Jews had to work with when they were slaves.
Another major item on the Seder table is red wine. Now, we have plenty of red wine in the house, but we did not have grape juice, which is usually what the kids drink instead. So, Harlow had the brilliant idea to put purple food coloring in water to create the illusion of grape juice.
We printed out a Haggadah we found online, a special “COVID-19” Edition.
Then we set the table as fancy as we could with what we had at the summer house and all got dressed up like we were going to our regular Seder. Harlow was first with a sparkly dress, fancy patent leather shoes and clip-on earrings.
I put on a blue dress.
Then Mazzy shocked me by putting on a shiny rose gold number.
And even more shocking was Mike suddenly coming down the stairs in a Seersucker suit jacket.
We took a family photo with a self-timer. This was taken in one take. I think it’s my favorite family photo ever.
We started the Seder on Zoom, with family celebrating in five different houses. My sister’s mother-in-law lit the candles because nobody else had any in their house.
Then Harlow and Jack took turns reading the four questions, and we all sang Dayenu together.
Some of you might remember that my mom always does a stuffed animal hunt for the kids at her Seder every year. This is just something to pass the time while she gets dinner ready. She also has lots of kid-friendly items to make the Seder more fun, like the plague masks we wear every year. This year, she put the plague masks on all the stuffed animals and walked us through each one. My favorite was Minnie Mouse in her polka dot dress as “boils.”
When it came time to eat the meal, we all said goodbye (aka left the meeting) and just ate as the four of us. Everything Mike cooked was fantastic. He was particularly proud of his matzah balls. It’s not easy to get matzah balls right on the first try!
That night was my first glass of wine since I got sick and it tasted wonderful. My toast was: “If I have to be stuck in quarantine, I could not think of three people I would rather be stuck with.”
We didn’t have any Passover approved desserts (you are not supposed to eat regular cakes or cookies since those are leavened), so the girls had the brilliant idea of creating an ice cream sundae bar. Of course, then we put in crushed Oreos and graham crackers as toppings, which definitely weren’t kosher, but if my Jewish ancestors have taught me anything it’s that you make due with what you have on hand.
We had such a great time at dinner, we forgot to look for the Afikomen (usually Mazzy and Harlow’s favorite part of the night!), so we did our search the next day instead. (You can see a high speed video of the search on tiktok.)
There has never been a reason for us to host Passover before because my mom does an awesome job, but at the end of the night, Mike said, “We could do it now!” Of course, we’ll still go to Grammy’s next year, but it’s nice to know that when she’s ready to pass the torch, we can run with it.
If you are feeling down about your Easter celebrations tomorrow, I hope this post motivates you. You can still make it feel special with your immediate family at home. Whatever you do, know that this will be an Easter your kids will always remember.
Happy Passover and Easter from my family to yours!
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