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The celebration of Passover or Pesach is an annual weeklong commemoration in Judaism. The festival celebrates the emancipation of the Jewish people from slavery and dates back to the ancient Egyptian period. Here we’re exploring the history behind Passover and some interesting, unusual and little-known facts about the celebration.
When is Passover 2024?
Passover 2024 is held from 22nd April until 30th April. The main celebration of Passover takes place each evening after nightfall. The dates of Passover change each year and are based on the traditional Hebrew calendar. Passover takes place from the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, through to the 22nd day.
What is the meaning of Passover?
Passover is taken from the Hebrew word, Pesach, which means ‘to pass over’. The phrase is said to represent the passing over of God over the Jewish homes sparing them from death on the first Passover eve.
At the time of the first Passover the Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptian people for decades. Moses tried to appeal to the Egyptians with his message from God but they ignored them, despite this leading to the loss of crops and the death of livestock.
The 15th Day of the month of Nisan in the year 1313 BCE saw the last of the ten plagues hit the Egyptian people, killing all of their firstborn sons. However, God spared the Israelite children from the plague, ‘passing over’ their homes as their doors were marked with lamb’s blood. This final plague saw the Pharaoh relenting in their enslavement of the Israelites. Once freed, the Jewish people began the long walk to Mount Sinai.
How is Passover celebrated?
Passover is most traditionally celebrated with a special feast called a seder. This takes place on the first evening of Passover and sometimes the second evening too. The typical seder features traditional prayer, symbols and blessings designed specifically for Passover and food presented on the seder plate.
The seder plate usually features several specific foods:
- Matzoh (unleavened bread)
- Maror (bitter herbs)
- Chazeret (bitter lettuce)
- Charoset (a nut and fruit paste)
- Karpas (parsley, dipped in salt water or vinegar)
- Zeroa (a lamb bone)
- Beitzah (a roasted egg)
Each element of the feast has symbolic importance to the festival.
What are the main traditions of Passover?
Many traditions take place at Passover. Here are some of the most common ones you’ll find in most Jewish families and communities:
The Four Questions
One of the main points of the traditional seder is the maggid, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. This story begins with the youngest person at the seder asking the Four Questions (Mah Nishtanah). These questions provide the impetus for telling why this night is different from all other nights.
The tradition of hiding the afikomen, the middle piece of matzah, takes place near the beginning of the seder. Early on the afikomen is broken in half. The bigger piece is wrapped in a napkin and hidden in the house, usually by the adult leading the seder. After the meal, younger participants of the seder are encouraged to search for it, and the winner may be rewarded with a small prize. This element of fun keeps tradition and also helps younger participants feel like part of the festival.
The Seder Plate
The Seder Plate is considered the physical representation of the Passover story as each element is a key part of the story and the seder experience. Each food item is chosen to help participants remember different parts of the story.
Fascinating Facts about Passover
Here are some of the most interesting and perhaps unknown facts about the celebration of Passover:
1. Passover is ancient
Judaism is built around many festivals and holidays but Passover is the oldest of them all. Over 3000 years old, it remains the longest-standing celebration in the Jewish faith and is held in particularly high regard because of this.
2. Most mega matzoh ball created in NYC
The important food at the heart of Passover can also be record-breaking. The world’s largest matzoh ball was made in New York City in 2009. It was crafted by chef Anthony Silvestry and measured 22.9” wide and weighed a ginormous 267lbs.
3. Nepal is home to the world’s largest seder
Quite surprisingly, Nepal, a nation known to be mainly Hindu and Buddhist is home to the world’s largest seder feast. It attracts more than 1000 participants and is held yearly in Kathmandu. It’s become a popular spot for Israeli travellers looking to explore the world after national service so is the perfect location for a super-sized seder.
4. Even pets eat differently at Passover
Throughout Passover, all Jewish homes must be free of chametz. This means no foods containing grains including wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt can be in the house, even for animals to eat. There is a growing range of Passover-friendly pet food so Jewish households can fully comply with their religious duties