Passover is a Jewish holiday whose date varies by year in our Gregorian calendar, just as Easter does. In the Jewish lunar calendar, it’s always a fixed date: the 15th day of Nissan.
Passover is a celebration of freedom from slavery by the Egyptians, marking the escape from Egypt that occurred during the time of Pharaoh Ramses II.
The holiday lasts for 8 days (in Israel, only 7 days.) On the first and last two days of the holiday no work is permitted (in Israel, the first and last day.) The focus of the holiday is foods that are designated and forbidden during it. Kosher rules are stricter than usual, requiring a special “kosher for passover” category.
Yeast-leavened foods — called “hametz” — are forbidden. In fact, anything which even could be leavened, such as products made from wheat, are forbidden, so any bread, cake, pasta, flour, etc., must all be removed from the home. The home must be cleaned thoroughly, to remove any crumbs that might have been leavened. The only bread allowed is Matzoh bread.
On the first two evenings, a special meal called a “Seder” (only the first evening in Israel) is served. The food items represent the exodus out of Egypt. As part of the ritual, families ask the question, “Why is this night special”?
Three pieces of Matzoh bread are placed in a cloth bag, and put in the centre of the table, while preparing the table.
At the start of the meal, the middle matzoh is removed from the bag, and broken in half. One half is returned to the bag, the other is hidden somewhere in the house for a child to find later and get a prize. That hidden half is called the “”Afikomen”
The seder appetizer plate
A special Seder appetizer plate is served.
The plate holds the following items:
Bitter herbs (mator)
Freshly-grated horseradish or romaine lettuce. Symbolizes slavery
Parsley dipped in salt water (karpas)
Symbolizes both tears and spring
Roasted egg (Beitzah)
A hard-boiled egg which is baked in the oven or held over a stove burner until the shell becomes brown. No one’s quite certain how it got on the plate. Some feel the practice may have originated amongst Italian Jews in the Middle Ages. There are many interpretations now attached to it, such as a symbol of spring, etc.
Shank bone of lamb
Symbolizes a lamb sacrifice. But can also be a turkey leg bone, for instance, if turkey is being served.
A fruit and nut salad made from chopped walnuts and apples flavoured with cinnamon and wine. This symbolizes the material used to make bricks for the Egyptian Pharoah.
Wine for Elijah
Four ceremonial glasses of wine are poured at different times, representing freedom, deliverance, redemption, and release.
A fifth cup is poured for the Prophet Elijah. The house door is opened at one point to invite Elijah in.
The matzoh hunt
After the meal, the children hunt for the hidden piece of matzoh (mentioned above.) When it’s found, everyone eats it, then the meal is over.
Passover is called “Pesach” in Hebrew.