I am passionate about renewing the festivals that are important to us so that we celebrate them in a way that is authentic to our unique family values and culture. I have noticed that there are many guides and articles about how Waldorf-inspired families celebrate Christian and/or Pagan festivals but very few about how others mindfully celebrate their family’s festivals and I want to change that.
It is my hope that this journal entry and many more to come will inspire others with similar belief systems to renew, recreate and celebrate this festival in their own way. I also believe it is vital that those who don’t share the same spiritual heritage acknowledge and witness the beauty and goodness in others’ traditions. There is so much to learn and enjoy about our diversity.
Today I share some answers from three mothers from the Whole Family Circle who celebrate Passover with their families each in their own unique way. Thank you to Clair, Chaya and Kjirsten for so generously taking the time to share these answers with us.
What is Passover?
Passover, or Pesach is a an eight day Jewish holiday that celebrates the Hebrew’s release from slavery. During Passover participants eat matzah, an unleavened bread in memory of what the Hebrews ate when they fled Egypt. Extended family gathers together for dinner and to practice many religious traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. The most marked of these traditions is the first night’s seder: an elaborate traditional celebration involving special foods and songs and the retelling of the story of Moses, his journey from slavery to freedom and the strength and courage he demonstrated returning to Egypt to lead the Hebrews to freedom.
Clair says, “As an atheist, I view it as a wonderful opportunity to have a large, complicated dinner with my family, and other multi-generational guests, tell stories and jokes and laugh”. Although she personally has no religious attachment to the festival she uses it to model to her children the importance of tradition and family.
What are the symbols, values and virtues associated with Passover?
Passover can represent hope; it highlights the importance of human freedom; the overcoming and triumph of good over bad and the importance of perseverance, self-sacrifice for the greater good and faith in a loving God no matter what our struggles.
Kjerstein shares a verse that talks about becoming free that can resonate with all of us and that is appropriate for the season:
“May we be released from all those feelings that would harm us.
May we have the will to give them up and get them gone,
For heavy are the satchels full of anger and false promise.
May we have the strength to put them down.
From ‘May the Light of Love’ by David Roth
What are the parallels between this festival and the natural world around us? Is there a connection between what is happening seasonally and what this festival symbolizes?
Passover is a Spring festival associated with the first of the barley harvest. It symbolizes the hope that brings light and shines it through the darkness. Lambs, frogs and insects can all be found in Passover storytelling (eg. in the plague stories). The food eaten at Seder is in season- horseradish, egg (representing new life) parsley & lettuce (new greens) and the lamb shank (new birth/life).
How do you set the scene for Passover? Is there anything you do in advance before the first day to mark or model that this time is coming?
In her home, leading up to Passover, Chaya, retells the story, sings special songs, buys the matzah and talks about the history of slavery around the world (especially the slavery of Africans in North America). They also take this time to read special Passover books, make special food, and craft decorations.
In Jewish law families are expected to clean their homes thoroughly leaving no trace of chametz (leavened bread crumbs). Donating this food to non-Jewish neighbors or those in need models charity and kindness to others.
Kjersten had a wonderful suggestion: “for families with small children it may also be helpful to have pictures or create small scenes from the story (a little baby Moses in a basket- or pieces to represent the plagues: figurines of a frog, a cricket, a candle.)”
How do you prepare the day before Passover?
Many children participate in polishing the silver and the special Seder plate or platter. Families can go together to shop for the special foods for the Seder and also prepare food together, for example, making the charoset (a paste of apples, wine, and various nuts and fruits representing the bricks the Hebrews were forced to make).
The day of the feast or the day before the table is carefully set with a Haggadah book at each place, as well as an extra chair, cup and space at the table for both Elijah and Miriam the prophet and prophetess.
How are children involved during Passover? What do they look forward to the most?
One of the most exciting parts of the Seder for children is when the Afikomen (a piece of matzah) is hiddenfor the children to find. The child who finds it usually wins a prize of some sort.
The Four Questions are asked and answered by the youngest child at the seder,
- “Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat leavened products and matzah, and on this night only matzah.
- Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat all vegetables, and on this night only bitter herbs.
- Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once, and on this night we dip twice.
- Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining, and on this night we only recline.
Chaya shares, “There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, or Repairing the World. In the Torah, G-d instructs us to pursue justice always and to help others however we can with no thought for reward. While we Jews may be free from slavery, we and others are not free from oppression. I believe it is essential to fight for others and raise up other voices, especially during Passover. There are other people who have been enslaved and there are others who continue to be enslaved today. Community service, helping others, educating about race and inclusion and civil rights are all essential parts of what I teach my child in the month leading up to Passover. There is also a part in the seder when we remember those people around the world, in our own country and neighborhood, who do not have enough to eat. Another important lesson for my daughter: to always use any privilege we have to fight for those who are in need.”