What Is Passover? Learn All About This Important Jewish Holiday

Recipes and Local Resources to Help your Family Celebrate

By Alicia Marshall, Publisher of Macaroni Kid Scranton April 20, 2024

Passover, also known as Pesach which means "to pass over" in Hebrew — is an eight day long observance celebrated during the spring in March or April. Passover commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Pesach is observed by avoiding leavened bread, and highlighted by the Seder meals that include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

Shopping for Kosher foods, Jewish items and gifts:

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Here are eight common questions and interesting facts about Passover:

1. When is Passover? 

  • The date of Passover changes each year because Jewish holidays follow the Jewish calendar. Passover is always in the spring typically during the months of March or April and lasts for eight days, beginning and ending at sundown on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.

2. What is the story of Passover? 

  • Passover is celebrated by Jewish people all over the world to commemorate the anniversary of the Israelites miraculous Exodus from Egyptian slavery.

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3. What is the biggest celebration during Passover? 

  • The main tradition during Passover is a special meal called the Seder, typically served the first and second nights of Passover and often includes extended family and friends. While every family might celebrate a bit differently each Seder include traditional religious rituals, handwashing, prayers, the reading of the Haggadah - a special Passover booklet that has Passover prayers and songs as well at the retelling of the exodus from Egypt, the Seder Plate - with a sampling of symbolic foods, Passover foods, songs, and storytelling.

4. What is served at the Seder?

  • On the table you'll find a Seder plate displaying the symbols of Passover: a roasted shank bone (representing the Paschal sacrifice); a roasted egg (representing spring and the circle of life); bitter herbs (representing the bitterness of slavery); haroset, typically a mixture apples, wine, seasonings and nuts, some include dates or raisins (representing the mortar used by the Jews in Egypt) ; and karpas, often parsley (to represent spring).
  • This is a big one - Matzah, a cracker-like unleavened bread, representing the food the Israelites took with them when they fled Egypt, along with Kosher wine, as the Torah includes drinking four glasses of wine during Seder - (many families also include concord grape juice as an option for kids and non-drinkers).
  • The main meal will depend on family tradition. Traditional Seder dishes include matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, Matzoh or Potato Kugel, fish, beef brisket or chicken and vegetables. 

5. What is the Haggadah? 

The Haggadah is a book read during Seder telling the story of Passover and explaining various Passover rituals. Some families hand down their copies of the Haggadah from generation to generation. Typically everyone around the table is included in reading, prayers, the four questions and singing — some of which can get silly! 

The youngest child at the table often asks the four questions: 

What makes this night different from all other nights?

  1. On all nights we need not dip even once, on this night we do so twice?
  2. On all nights we eat chametz (leavened bread) or matzah (unleavened bread), and on this night only matzah?
  3. On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night maror (bitter herbs)?
  4. On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline?

6. Why does Passover last eight days? 

Passover is celebrated for eight days because although the Israelites left Egypt on the first day of Passover, they were chased by Pharaoh's army for a whole week.

7. When was the first Passover Seder at the White House? 

A few Clinton staffers held the first White House Passover Seder in 1993, in the Indian Treaty Room, although the president didn't attend. President Obama hosted and attended a Passover Seder each year from 2009-2016, this was the first attended and hosted by a sitting U.S. President. On the first night of Passover in 2017, several Trump staffers conducted a Seder in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building although the President did not attend. Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris hosted the first-ever virtual White House Seder in 2021 ahead of the beginning of Passover. Last year in 2022 they held the second virtual seder as well as hosting eighteen people at the first-ever Seder held at the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory.

8. How do I wish someone a Happy Passover?

You can say "Chag Pesach sameach" which means "Happy Passover festival" in Hebrew - keep in mind the "ch" sound is not pronounced like the "ch" in child, but like the "ch" in Bach. Want to stick with English? Simply saying "Happy Passover" is great too!

More Passover articles you will enjoy:

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Alicia Marshall is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Scranton, Pa.

Updated and edited by Brenna Gutell publisher of Macaroni KID Conejo Valley - Malibu - Calabasas