What do doody, fake boobs and a beard have in common?
The Passover Seder at our house!
Huh? We know that using matza in cooking for eight days is a binding agent, but the boobs and beard?
And, what does that picture of Gilligan have to do with this topic? Which episode was that from?
All good questions, my friends, but hold that thought for a minute. Some quick background, first. Growing up, we used to go to my dad’s parents for the first night (saw the cousins), and then my mom’s parents the second night (saw much older cousins, aunts and uncles). The structure for both nights was the same – blessings over the wine, reading the Exodus story, eating, praying and some singing. These were long nights. The second was mostly in Hebrew, during which Uncle Hy would fall asleep at the table. Eventually, my parents had the Seders and then Debbie and I picked up the mantle. I liked my paternal grandfather’s book (the Haggadah), but they were out of print. What is a boy to do?
Re-invent the Seder!
I scanned the pages of the book, added some fun songs to the mix and tried to figure out how to “spice things up.” We throw the doody whenever we read the word duty (two times). Whoever reads the line “thy breasts have become firm…” (shows up one time) has to wear the breasts. And the beard? The next reader has to wear that creatively. We have seen it as a beard, Don King style hair, used as a merken, under the armpits, etc.
There is a part of the service, in the second half, where we open the door to let in the spirit of the prophet Elijah. We invite the children to open the door. One year, when the girls were young, my brother Jeff agreed to play Elijah. He was very excited; we had hidden a sheet to wear, he had a hockey stick as a staff and the beard. When Gab and Bec opened the back door, out jumped “Elijah.” Just like a cartoon, the hair of both girls went straight up, they both screamed and it took an hour to calm them down. For weeks after, if they saw the beard on the chair, they screamed and cried in fright. The beard then became part of the Seder…
There was the year where all of the kids (our girls, nephews, friends) put on a creative play. Every year, I ask questions to the kids to engage them, explain what we are doing to new comers, and just have a fun time. What I have learned is:
- Tradition – While we all have religious traditions passed down through the ages, start your own family traditions. Yeah, but, they did this in the year gimmel…OK, but there is no (religious) law that dictates some of our actions. Keep traditions you like and add new ones. This will make any holiday more meaningful to you and can be something your children will happily carry forward.
- Include Everyone – Family events = inclusion. We include my Egyptian sister-in-law and non-Jews friends / family. Why? If we want to invite other Jews to participate, we sure better be open to including their spouse, significant other or special friend. I believe in the saying, confused people do nothing. Include and engage all who attend, which leads to a more fun evening for everyone attending.
- Make your own Memories – Find the things that will create the memories, for not only you, but also the people participating. We are the only family I know that has the Seder in the living room, sitting comfortably on the floor or couches. We use props and sing alternate songs, etc. My brother once commented that his kids know no other Seder and it has left a positive impact on them. Make the event count.
- Vive la Différence – We grew up having a special set of dishes for Passover, which I still do today. “Wayne, that must be a drag.” Point of perspective – if my mindset is “this sucks,” then it does. I enjoy the change and I am not bothered by the effort. It is an opportunity to clean up the kitchen, enjoy a different set of foods (like the mandel bread pictured below) and give a fresh look to our daily, recurring, everyday life. I find it exciting to do the change for eight days, relish in the disruption and look forward to it every year.
- Have Fun – Loosen up! From a purely religious point of view, holidays are serious business. Not everyone likes to be serious all the time. Find a way to lighten things up. For Passover, from the cues in pop culture, either you can be the Moses played by Charlton Heston or by Mel Brooks. This is my favorite holiday, so it should be fun!
Each year, we have a new guest come to our Seders. Good eats, good fun, at least four cups of wine and lots of laughs. That is how all holidays should be celebrated!
What are your favorite holidays and your “special” family traditions?