What Does Passover Celebrate?
Every religion has festivals to commemorate the tenets of their faith, and Judaism is no different. One of the most important of these festivals is Passover, which is celebrated every year, usually in March or April. The exact date is determined by the Jewish calendar, which is different from the Gregorian one that is mainstream today.
To answer the question “what does Passover celebrate?”, it's important to review the history of the holiday, as well as some of its traditions and customs.
All of this is to remind us of the importance of this high holiday, and to give it the attention and respect it deserves.
The Passover Story
To understand what Passover celebrates, let’s recount the Passover story, which is from the book of Exodus in the Torah, the Jewish holy text.
As the story goes, Jews living in ancient Egypt were held as slaves and heavily oppressed, so much so that the Egyptian pharaoh ordered that all Jewish sons be drowned in the Nile.
But one son, a boy named Moses, survived. Later in his life, he was spoken to by God and told that he must lead his people back to the Jewish homeland, Israel.
When Moses appeals to the Pharaoh and is rejected, God steps in to help, unleashing the ten plagues on the land of Egypt.
For the final plague, God went to Egypt to kill the firstborn son of everyone living there. But before He went, God told Moses what he was going to do, and instructed the Jews (through Moses) to mark their doors with the blood of a sacrificial lamb.
This way, God would know which houses to pass over and spare. Get it?
Once he did this, Moses got the Pharaoh to give his people their freedom. But as they were leaving, the Egyptians followed them, for the Pharaoh had reversed his decision. They caught up to Moses at the Red Sea, which he then parted with the help of God, bringing his people to freedom and back to their holy homeland.
What Does Passover Celebrate?
Today, Passover is a commemoration of this story. It is meant to serve as a reminder of the many hardships the Jewish people have experienced throughout their existence, mostly in the form of oppression.
In addition, Passover supports the theme that the Jews have been “chosen” by God, and that no matter what their situation, they will always be taken care of and find salvation.
Because of its roots in the early days of Judaism and also its connection to core Jewish values, Passover is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar.
A Typical Passover Celebration
Passover is actually a seven to eight day holiday. However, the most important part, the seder comes at the beginning, usually the first or the second night.
The seder is a gathering of friends and family that includes a special meal with symbolic foods. But this is much more than a meal.
While eating, Jewish families gathered at a table, will take turns reading from the Haggadah, which is a book that tells the traditional story of Passover. This is meant to keep history, and its lessons, alive in the modern day.
In addition, the Haggadah dictates the order in which participants eat, drink wine, and discuss certain topics.
Throughout the rest of Passover, Jews observe the holiday by eating only unleavened bread and attending special services at the synagogue.
Passover Food Traditions
As with any holiday, religious or not, food is an important part of Passover. However, unlike other holidays, the foods eaten during Passover all have special symbolic significance. Many of these are served on the seder plate, which is the plate of food served during the seder ceremony.
Here are some of the more significant Passover food traditions:
- Roasted shank bone — Since the original Israelites sacrificed a lamb and used its blood to mark their doors, it’s quite common for lamb to be on the seder plate.
- Egg — Passover takes place during the spring, a period of rebirth and rejuvenation. An egg on the plate honors this as well as the circle of life.
- Bitter herbs — Although not very tasty, these serve as a reminder of the horrific nature of slavery, which is also at the core of the Passover story.
- Haroset — A mixture of apples, wine, nuts, and other ingredients, this is meant to symbolize the mortar the Jewish people worked with while enslaved in Egypt.
- Karpas — These are just greens, often parsley, that serve as additional symbols of spring.
Passover is one of the oldest holidays of any religious tradition, which is why it’s traditions and customs are so steeped in history. Even thousands of years later, the story of the Jews escaping slavery and reaching salvation is still relevant and very much alive.