Passover begins on Friday evening, April 22. This holiday requires far more preparation than most, especially in the kitchen. What follows are some concrete suggestions for enhancing your Seder and adding to its fun. This year spend some extra time preparing to have a great time.
First of all view the haggadah as director’s notes rather than a script in which every word must be recited. Use it as a guide rather than a book that should be read cover to cover. The point is to relish in our freedom.
1. Recite the blessing for karpas (vegetables) early and put out crudités to nibble on to sustain your guests until dinner. It is never a good idea to sit for hours staring at food. Add hummus (the Sephardi are absolutely correct on legumes; the Ashkenazi need to lighten up) and salsa for dipping and of course added sustenance. Let everyone nosh as you make your way through the first part of the Seder.
2. Really act out the maggid (story). Assign parts. Use this as a guide: Sedra Scenes: Skits for Every Torah Portion. Use the scenes for portions Shemot, Vaera, Bo and Beshalach. It is always fun deciding who gets to play God. Act out the story. Don’t just read the haggadah’s outline and commentary. Most haggadahs assume you know the story so they jump to the commentary. You are supposed to tell the story of our going out from Egypt. That is the mitzvah. Many of the new haggadahs help you do this so this is an important investment to guarantee more seder fun and added meaning.
3. Add red Jell-O shots for the first plague and blue Jell-O shots for hail. Perhaps yellow for boils? You get the point. Of course, if your kids are not in college perhaps you should not choose this route. And if they are older than 21 then be sure someone does not enjoy the plagues too much. If everyone is in college then you can take this path instead: Passover Cocktails for Each of the Ten Plagues. By the way if I ever did this I would not make it to dinner and might remain trapped in that ninth plague of darkness. When our kids were younger we would have all the children bring a pillowcase with the three items they would take if they had to leave in a hurry, just like the Israelites had to do when they rushed out of Egypt. They would then have to tell the group what they brought with them and why. Jell-O shots and cocktails or American Girl dolls and Xbox? You decide.
4. Assign your guests different charoset recipes. Use this as a guide: Five Charoset Recipes from Around the World. Take a vote over which variety wins and give a prize to the winning charoset recipe. Our family has aged out of afikomen gifts so perhaps a bottle of wine or simply accolades will do. Remember charoset just has to look like bricks not taste like bricks. Again the Sephardi recipes win hands down. (For those with nut allergies there are a lot of alternative recipes to be found.) We do the same thing with the matzoh balls in our soup. We usually have four different varieties: Persian gundi, Pitigliano (otherwise known as Italy's little Jerusalem) meatballs, Hasidic non-gebrokts potato balls and the traditional Ashkenazi. Spice up the menu and learn some Jewish history in the process: The Passover Table: Delicious Recipes for Your Seder Table and Beyond.
5. For the fourth cup of wine bring out a prized dessert wine. Personally I like Vin Santo and although traditionally paired with biscotti I think macaroons will do just fine. If you are committed to staying with this Italian theme, and still keeping the Passover restrictions, you can of course bake Ricciarelli instead. (If you have had enough to drink by this point try instead this favorite recipe for sorbet: Scooped Charoset Sorbet.)
Now try to recite the last verse of Who Knows One in one breath. I don’t know about you but a lot of those concluding songs sound like drinking game songs to me. 100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer…
Enjoy! Celebrate! Worry about the chametz on Thursday. Enjoy the fun and celebration on Friday. The point of the Seder is to taste freedom.
And yes, fun requires preparation.