When the frilly Easter dresses and suits start showing up on the racks at Walmart, I know it’s getting close to that time of year: Passover.
Yeah, I know the holidays don’t have anything to do with each other, but because they tend to happen around the same time, it’s a good reminder for me to start getting everything ready. (After all, it’s not like I’m going to see a big display of matzoh to ring the bell.)
Passover is a huge deal in Judaism. Huge. Even the most secular Jews tend to observe it in some fashion or another.
Still a little fuzzy on what Passover is? Well, here’s the really short version: Remember in The Ten Commandments and Charlton Heston smeared lamb blood on the doorways when that spooky green mist was coming?
Well, he did that so the 10th plague — the one the Pharaoh brought on himself — would “pass over” the homes of the devout and, you know, not have their firstborn killed. Passover. Get it?
It’s a celebration of freedom from slavery — because building pyramids sucks — and the Jews’ mass exodus from Egypt.
And we celebrate it by having the worst meal ever.
At my house, we start preparing for Pesach (Passover) several weeks out. Everything must be cleaned, scrubbed and sanitized. That bacon that’s been hiding in my fridge? (Shhh!) Gone. It’s that big of a deal. No cheating.
Also gone during Pesach is bread. But not just bread — anything made from the grains wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt. It’s called “chametz” and it’s a serious no-no.
But get this, it’s not as simple as just not eating chametz — technically we’re not even supposed to own it, possess it, or feed it to our pets. In addition, all the utensils that have ever been used to prepare the chametz have to go too. That knife you used to cut your sandwich? The spoon you stirred the oatmeal with? Gotta go, man.
If your pets do eat grain — and duh, I feed my dog Purina, not steak — they have to go too.
So, what do we do with the now-forbidden food, pets and kitchen utensils? Well, we’re Jews — we sell them.
Kind of. Because face it, it’s just not practical to basically buy all new kitchen stuff each year (and no one wants my old dog.)
To solve this problem, we draw up a contract with an obliging gentile (non-Jew) who then “owns” the offending items until the holiday is over at which point we “buy” them back.
I know, I know …
Where was I? Oh, that’s right, “worst meal ever.”
Let me tell you about the seder …
A seder plate is, well, it’s just a plate, but most families have a special one that’s intracately decorated and is divided into six segments: Maror, Charoset, Karpas, Z’roa, Chazeret and Beizah.
Also on the table is, of course, matzoh — and wine. A lot of wine.
A seder is a dinner, but it’s also very ritualized: It starts of with a blessing over wine in honor of the holiday. You drink the glass (yes, the glass — not a sip) and then a second glass is poured.
You can see real quick where this night is going.
After the first blessing (and the wine) you wash your hands in preparation for the first story and dish on the seder plate — Karpas.
Karpas is parsley that you dip in salt water and eat. It’s not great. The parsley symbolizes the “lowly origins of the Jewish people” with the salt water representing the tears shed from slavery.
Then we break one of the pieces of matzoh and tell the Maggid — “The Story.”
Basically, whoever is hosting, or the rabbi, gives a retelling of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Pesach starting off with a little audience participation by having the youngest person there asking the Four Questions.
If you’re lucky, they won’t sing it …
Either way, at the end of the maggid, there’s another blessing and — you guessed it — more wine.
This goes on for several hours. Tell a story, eat something weird off the sedar plate, sing a song, say a blessing, drink wine. (At every seder I’ve ever attended, everyone was completely sloshed by the end of the night.)
The seder is concluded with the traditional toast “Next year in Jerusalem!” and everyone stumbles home.
But wait, you’re not done yet. See Pesach isn’t just about the seder — that’s only one part. The holiday goes on for another week, ending this year at sundown next Tuesday.
At which point I’ll have to remember to “buy” all my kitchen utensils back. And my dog …
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Sentinel-Progress and can be reached at [email protected] Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the newspaper’s opinion.