Passover is an eight day festival commencing on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. On the Jewish calendar, days begin from sundown so festivities start on the night before.
As the Hebrew calendar is based on lunar cycles, the date of the festival moves from year to year. In 2016 it will commence on 22 April.
Passover commemorates the freedom from slavery of the Israelites in ancient Egypt. It is a very important holiday for Jews and is widely observed.
A time to eat and observe
In Israel the first and last day of the festival are considered holy days where no work must be conducted, special meals should be eaten and prayers observed. Jews are also required to remove all chametz from their possession. Chametz is leavening – thus all products made from any kind of yeast must be disposed of. On the first night of Passover families gather for a special meal called the seder. Jews from the Ashkenazic tradition are also prohibited from eating legues, rice, corn, soy, millet, beans and peas during Passover.
The food served during the seder has its own rituals. As writer and broadcaster Corby-Sue Neumann explains, “At the seder table the meal takes place in order, and we eat various foods that represent the emotion of our struggle. For example, parsley dipped in salt water reminds us of our tears. The symbolic texture of charoset (a grated mix of apples, cinnamon and sultanas) represents the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build in Egypt.”
On each table there is a ceremonial plate with a number of symbolic foods, including a roast lamb shank, in memory of the Paschal (Passover) sacrifice, and a hard-boiled egg that is a symbol both of mourning and of renewal. A range of herbs adorn the tables and there is always matzo. “The real hero of Passover is our specifically made flatbread, matzo,” Corby-Sue says.
Celebrations in Australia
Passover is a time for friends and family to come together. As Corby-Sue explains, “As a group, we gather together and read from the Haggadah, each person at the table takes turn in reading and we retell, exactly the same way every year, the story of how we as a nation were delivered out of bondage by the hand of God.”
Celebrations around the world
For Jews in the northern hemisphere, Passover is a spring festival where the menu will include many fresh green vegetables. In Morocco, the end of Passover is marked by a festival called Mimouna, and the table is traditionally decorated with all kinds of symbolic foods, including new growth leaves and grain, fish, fruit, sweets and pastries. Mufleta (a type of pancake) is also eaten.