Hey Joe thanks for your response! That sounds nice, visiting with your family. I actually really enjoy family get-togethers. I guess maybe because I didn't have enough of them as a child and teen.
Usually Alex and I don't celebrate Passover; in fact we didn't do anything last year at all. Like I mean nothing. I think maybe he was working and I probably watched television. Man how things have changed in just one year... Wowow! This year we are doing EVERYTHING! Both seders at our house, the special keeping kosher for Passover, the searching for chametz, everything! It's because of our newly adopted children. They are used to doing it, and we want things to be as normal for them as possible. And I am surprising myself, as I am quite enjoying it!
At Passover, no leavened bread or any foods with leavening agents are eaten. This is because the Jews in Egypt, knowing that they were going to be freed, had to bake their bread quickly and it had no time to rise. So it was a hard flat bread, which we call Matzot (Or Matzohs). So, all leavened bread, which is called chametz, has to be removed from the house the night before Passover starts. So last night we had a ceremony of searching for the chametz, which is traditional and a lot of fun for the kids. We looked all over the house for bread, and the kids were even equipped with flashlights and allowed to look deep into cupboards and behind the stove, etc, for any crumbs. Everything we found was packed up or thrown out. Some people burn their bread, but at our synagogue we have a special "holding cell" for the bread lol. So when we were finished packing it all up we drove it to the synagogue, and we can pick it up again after Passover. I'm glad to not burn it, because that would be a major waste of food when so many people are going hungry in the world.
As you probably know, Passover (actually we usually call it Pesach, which is the Hebrew word), is the Jewish people's way of remembering that we were freed from Egypt. On the last night of the plagues of Egypt, the Angel of Death "passed over" the Jewish households, hence the word Passover. To commemorate this, we have 2 special dinners, which include special prayers and traditions, one was tonight, and the second one will be tomorrow night. They are called seders. Tonight we had a "regular" seder and tomorrow we are having an abbreviated more fun seder just for the kids and their friends. Seders are a little different in each home.
The seder is a special meal, and since my mother-in-law is here with us this year, she cooked a VERY delicious supper. The traditional foods are hard boiled eggs, chicken soup with matzoh balls, gefilte fish, tsimmes (which is sweet carrots) and of course matzoh. Most people around here (including us!) also have vegetables, couscous, salad, roast chicken and roast beef. My mother-in-law baked 2 special kosher for passover cakes as well, a honey cake and an angel food cake.
Besides all the yummy food, the seder table also has wine, red horseradish, haggadot (prayer books) at each person's place, bowls of salt water for dipping the egg and vegetables during the meal, and pillows so that everyone can recline and rest during the seder if they want to (I believe Jesus was reclining at the Last Supper!). There is also a special seder plate, on which are placed the following symbolic items: a boiled egg that has been slightly roasted; a shank bone, also roasted; maror (bitter herbs)... We use the red horseradish; karpas (a vegetable, usually celery or parsley), and charoset, a mixture of finely chopped apples and walnuts mixed with wine, and made to resemble mortar. The symbolism for each is:
Roasted egg: Eggs are a sign of spring and a symbol of rebirth and new life. It is dipped in water to represent tears. The tears are mourning for the Egyptians who drowned in the Red Sea (we call them the Churban). It is also a symbol of the fact that we no longer bring sacrifice as it was done in the old days.
Flank bone: Again, it is a symbol of the Pascal sacrifice, and also in memory of the Churban. The shank bone is used because its Hebrew word is zeroah (arm), which is the same word used to describe G-d's outstretched arm as He delivered us from bondage.
Maror (bitter herbs): So that we might taste the bitterness that the Jewish slaves had to endure.
Charoset: A symbol of the mortar the slaves used to build the temples and pyramids for the Egyptians.
Karpas (vegetable): A sign of spring, vegetation, new growth and new life.
The pillow for reclining symbolizes the way free people eat. Slaves do not recline, relax, and take their when time eating. We are no longer slaves, and so we do recline.
I'm already making this post too long lol so I'm going to try and shorten it a bit. The passover service, which we have at the table while eating, consists basically of the following:
Blessing the wine
Eating the karpas (vegetable)
Dividing up the matzoh (unleavened bread) and giving some to everyone
Telling the Passover story
Washing the hands (again)
Blessing over matzot
Eating the bitter herb (usually as part of a small sandwich with matzoh)
Eating the bitter herb and charoset together (also as a small sandwich)
Eating the festive meal
Eating the afikomen (a part of the matzoh that is put aside and hidden)
Grace after meals
The service includes lots of singing and participation by all involved, especially the children. Four cups of wine are drunk during the service as well, at various points. People who can't drink wine can have kosher grape juice instead. The afikomen, which I mentioned earlier, is especially fun for the kids. A part of the matzoh is hidden, kind of like people hide Easter candy, and then the kids have to get up from the table and search for it. Once they find it, they bring it to the head of the table (my husband in this case) and then he has to "buy" it from them, by giving them money or gifts. The service can't be continued until the children agree on a "price", so usually the father is very generous in order to be able to get on with the service.
Anyways sorry for the long response, but it's hard to describe Passover in a brief way haha. If you have any other questions about it, just ask and I will try to answer. Guess I should also mention that other Jewish people might have different seder traditions, but these are my family's.