What would make your Passover seder — or any hosted meal in your home — meaningful and memorable? Food, fun, music and meaning, play and prayer. While there is a stylized beauty to sitting around a dressed up Passover table, try tailoring the seder experience this year in a different way. Set up your seder experience just as you would a child’s birthday party or an arts and crafts playdate.
The Haggadah provides content and order, but we parents create the reality of how the experience unfolds. You do not need to host a formalized meal or read the whole Haggadah. But you do want to make it exceedingly meaningful. All it takes is some preparation to make the evening an engaging success!
As you prepare your seder for your children (and adults), try to incorporate your child’s and guests’ learning styles. For example, if your child loves to do drama, create a play (or download one from the internet) that your child can act out with costumes, as a way of teaching the Passover story. If a guest loves to create games, develop a game with him that teaches or reviews the meaning of the symbols of the Passover seder plate. If a family member loves to draw, ask her to draw pictures that depict the central messages of the Passover seder which she can show and explain during the seder itself.
Kid Style Reclining
Borrowing from the Greco-Roman custom wherein those who were free reclined on couches while eating, the rabbis decreed that during the seder, we should place pillows behind our backs and lean a bit when we eat or drink, thus proclaiming our freedom. Make your seder even more kid-friendly. Think about how you can transform it into a relaxing, relatable experience.
We have fond memories of seders growing up but remember the evenings going too long for young children. When our kids were toddlers, we were motivated by comfort to hold the seder in a different room than where we would later eat dinner. We threw pillows on the floor of the not-yet-furnished living room so that, like in young children’s gymnastic classes, movement was unrestricted.
As the kids grew older, we moved to the family room cushy couches and nestled ourselves amongst our collection of decorative bed pillows. There the kids wondered aloud, “This is strange. Why are we eating like this instead of at the kitchen table?” Their natural query was the perfect segue into the seder, allowing us to answer their question by telling the story of our historical Jewish flight to freedom.
Dipping More Than Twice
During the seder we are instructed to dip foods twice: first karpas (greens, symbolizing springtime and rebirth) in salt water (symbolizing the tears shed during slavery), and then maror (bitter herbs) in charoset (apples, nuts and wine concoction that symbolizes the mortar used to build Pharaoh’s cities). Each dipping is accompanied by explanations that further draw out the multilayered meaning of the symbolic foods.
In our home, we expand this symbolic food play by multiplying the dipping options. We fill our tables with plates of apples and honey (recounting Rosh Hashana’s dipping adventure), strawberries (recounting the juicy details of the journey to freedom) and melted chocolate (why not?), matzah crackers, vegetable sticks and scrumptious dips of all kinds. Passover should be tasty and fun, for after all, we are acknowledging our elation at having survived oppression. With these many dips, we transform Passover into a celebration of the splendid sweetness of freedom! Following the first dipping and its blessing, we invite our guests to dip to their hearts content.
Dipping early and then often also alleviates the hunger that can otherwise interfere with adults and children absorbing other meaningful seder lessons. Moreover, the tasty task of dipping turns food play into meaning as we creatively connect each dipping moment with our Passover past. Where karpas in salt water recalls the tears of slavery and the hope and rebirth of spring, dipping strawberries into chocolate recalls the sweetness of successfully fleeing slavery. Dipping healthy foods like fruit and vegetables reminds us that our ancestors committed themselves to vigorous lives and to creative survival in the wilderness.
Symbol Sleuthing: Why is there a Football on the Seder Table?
On Passover plate, each symbol invites us to recall a moment within the story. Charoset recalls the mortar our ancestors spread between bricks to build Pharaoh’s cities and storehouses. Matzah recounts the flight to freedom and our lack of time to allow the dough to rise. Maror evokes the bitter taste of enslavement.
Put a dozen random objects on each table to captivate the participants and we invite children to inquire about what they notice. Incorporate everyday objects and assign them symbolic meaning. Challenge teams of guests to become “symbol sleuths” to decipher the Passover lessons represented in these symbols. Symbol sleuthing requires us to discern the meaningful from the mundane.
Why is a football on the seder table? (Our answer: Because the angel of death “passed” over the houses of the Israelites.)
Why is there a dollar on the table? (Our answer: To remind us that money cannot buy freedom; it took a plan, endurance to survive the plagues and the strength of spirit to find a positive outcome.)
Why then the seventh grade history book? (Our answer: To create a discussion about the historicity of the holiday and the possibility that even if historical fact is questioned, the story’s religious truths can be abiding.)
Act It Out
The maggid (or retelling) reminds and reconnects each generation with the story of the exodus from Egypt. Find a Passover story play online, print it out, so that your children can act it out. Invite participants to grab costumes from a box of random clothing. “Hire” older children to be directors to guide the younger kids in a reenactment.
Be even more creative for the twenty-first century. Interweave a video clip of Steven Spielberg’s Prince of Egypt into the retelling. Infuse humor by playing any of the myriad contemporary YouTube musical adaptations and creative lyrics. Each year, the options expand to include performance groups from around the globe who belt out Chad Gadya and Dayenu in as assortment of languages and musical styles. Our favorites include versions by the Maccabeats and Six13.