[Image: "The Angel of Death and the First Passover (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us" by Charles Foster), Wikimedia]
Some thoughts on celebrating your own home Passover Seder
by Sandra Klein Fenton
The first time that Gentiles try to celebrate their own Passover, they typically feel like interlopers, or as Nigella Lawson says, “I felt faintly fraudulent.” And she is Jewish! She also says in her wonderful essay in her cookbook Feast, that “nothing can seem stranger than the rituals of others.” All that is to say, it is quite normal and to be expected that you will feel a bit nervous and awkward, but let me encourage you to forge ahead—there are rewards and blessings abounding. Also be assured that you are not an interloper—it is your festival too. It is the machinations of church politicians long ago that separated you from it.
Over the years I have observed that many Jewish families do not feel any more assured about the actual Seder service than we do. They struggle through the Haggadah (the liturgy for the service) and hope for the best. We who are Christian have the added benefit of knowing how this story fits into the whole of our Scripture. I would encourage you to have the leader of the service read through the Haggadah ahead of time, but most of all remember that this is a joyful celebration—mistakes are allowed.
There is often confusion and uncertainty about food. Many Gentiles think they have to serve lamb. Some Jewish groups do serve lamb, but others never do, believing they should wait until the temple is rebuilt. In this country, chicken, turkey, and beef are all served. A famous Jewish food writer says she alternates between the brisket recipe of one grandmother and the turkey of the other. The one non-negotiable is the matzah—a cracker-like unleavened bread. If it is not available in your local grocery store, you can order it from Amazon or other online vendors. Matzah is used any place that bread would ordinarily appear, so a common main course is turkey or chicken with matzah stuffing. Also since leavening is not allowed, traditional desserts such as flourless chocolate cake and almond torte have evolved and are traditional to Passover meals. In this internet age, hundreds of recipes are available online, many with YouTube video instruction and essays about family tradition. We are including several classic recipes here (with the resources listed below), but at this time of year the food sections of major newspapers and magazines are filled with Passover recipes, so the sky is the limit!
People are often also confused by the charoset, a mixture of ground nuts and fruit that is a part of the Seder service, but also traditionally served as part of the meal. Hundreds of recipes have evolved based upon what is available in different parts of the world as well as personal taste. Some are cooked, and some are raw. One famous Jewish food writer says that she serves at least three kinds at her Seder meal, and another cooks hers for hours into a kind of chutney that can be spread on the meat. You can be creative, and make what you know your family will enjoy. Home Passover celebrations are very much like Thanksgiving, with recipes personalized by the family and built in to their tradition. It is food to be anticipated, enjoyed and celebrated.
Years ago Daryl bought a Seder plate for our family celebration. It is a richly decorated, large platter, designed to hold the special symbolic elements of the service. Although it is fun to get out every year, much like getting out beloved Christmas decorations, a special plate is not essential. You can lay out the symbolic elements on any large plate or platter. And for the four cups that are served during the Seder service, if your family is teetotal, grape juice is fine instead of wine, and of course for the children.
Passover is traditionally the most festive meal of the year for a Jewish family, so whatever is festive for your family is the rule of the day. The important thing is that there is an atmosphere of fun and rejoicing.
The following resources will give you the details you need to set up your table and prepare for the service. The printable Hagaddah will guide you through the service. There are also beautiful printed Messianic Hagaddahs, available on Amazon and from Jewish ministries (such as Jews for Jesus), that can bring the story to life for your children.
We here at CMJ are happy to answer any questions you have or guide you to recipes that we cannot print here due to copyright protections. We have found the celebration of the Feasts of the Lord, and especially Passover, to be enriching to our faith and to our Christian practice. We want to share that with you.
Resources to help you get started (click on the title to download the document):
Recipes from The New York Times: