What is Passover?
Passover (in Hebrew, Pesach) commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The holiday originated in the Torah, where the word pesach refers to the ancient Passover sacrifice (known as the Paschal Lamb); it is also said to refer to the idea that God “passed over” (pasach) the houses of the Jews during the 10th plague on the Egyptians, the slaying of the first born. The holiday is ultimately a celebration of freedom, and the story of the exodus from Egypt is a powerful metaphor that is appreciated not only by Jews, but by people of other faiths as well.
How is Passover celebrated?
Passover is observed for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora. The main event of the Passover holiday is the seder (literally, “order”), a festive meal in which the haggadah (story of the exodus and related writings) is recited in a set order. During the entire duration of the holiday, it is forbidden to eat leavened food products (such as bread, pasta, etc.). The reason for this is that Jewish tradition states that in their haste to escape from Egypt the Jews did not have enough time to wait for bread to rise. Instead, they ate matzah, unleavened bread. Part of the Passover seder includes hiding the afikoman (half of a matzah that is kept between two other matzahs during the seder and later hidden). Children search for the afikoman and usually receive a prize for finding it.
For many Jews, the process of preparing for Passover involves cleaning every corner of the home and removing all leavened products, known as chametz. Some Jews practice biur chametz (burning chametz). Others keep all the chametz in a separate area of the house where it won’t be seen, and symbolically sell the chametz. This can be done through a local synagogue, and chametz is usually sold for a nominal amount of money (often a few coins). Many Jews have special Passover dishes that are only used once a year during the holiday.
What kinds of foods are eaten on Passover?
Passover foods are unique in that, beyond the usual rules of keeping kosher, there are special rules for preparing food that is kosher for Passover. Of course, matzah is a central part of the seder and of Passover meals throughout the duration of the holiday. Symbolic foods eaten at the seder are: maror (bitter herbs, usually horseradish, a reminder of the bitterness of slavery), salt water (symbolizing the tears of the slaves), charoset (sweet paste made of fruit and nuts, symbolizing the mortar the slaves used to build the Egyptian pyramids), zeroah (shank bone, representing the Passover sacrifice), beitzah (hard-boiled egg, symbolic of life and birth associated with the spring season), and karpas (a leafy green vegetable, usually a piece of lettuce, symbolizing hope and redemption). It is required to drink four cups of wine throughout the seder.
Some traditional Ashkenazi Passover dishes include gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, brisket, and kosher-for-Passover kugels, and tzimmis (sweet carrot and fruit dish), and macaroons and sponge cake (made from matzah meal) for dessert. A popular breakfast food during the holiday is matzah brie (matzah soaked in water, dipped in egg, and fried).
Sephardic Jews have different kosher rules for Passover than Ashkenazi Jews. Sephardic Jews allow legumes (kitniyot), nuts, corn, and rice to be eaten, while Ashkenazi Jews do not.
For a detailed guide to Passover cooking and the unique holiday kosher restrictions, check out this post:
What is the proper greeting for Passover?
The greeting for Passover is simply “Chag Sameach!” (Happy Holiday).
When is Passover?
Passover begins on the 15th of Nisan and continues for seven days (in Israel) or eight days (in the Diaspora).
Passover occurs on the following dates:
Jewish Year 5774: Sunset April 14, 2014 – Nightfall April 22, 2014
Jewish Year 5775: Sunset April 3, 2015 – Nightfall April 11, 2015
Jewish Year 5776: Sunset April 22, 2016 – Nightfall April 30, 2016
Jewish Year 5777: Sunset April 10, 2017 – Nightfall April 18, 2017
Jewish Year 5778: Sunset March 30, 2018 – Nightfall April 7, 2018
Jewish Year 5779: Sunset April 19, 2019 – Nightfall April 27, 2019
Jewish Year 5780: Sunset April 8, 2020 – Nightfall April 16, 2020