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Holidays 101

Passover: celebrating the story of Exodus

Published on April 10, 2022 | Last Updated April 19, 2022
A colourful illustration where Moses is seen parting the Red Sea
In the Exodus story, the Red Sea parts allowing Moses and the Israelites to escape from Egypt. (Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Jewish festival of Passover is a very special holiday that celebrates the Jewish peoples' freedom from the pharaoh of Egypt over 3,000 years ago. This is a story known as the Exodus.

It’s the oldest, continuously celebrated holiday of the Jewish calendar. Passover can run for seven or eight days, depending on where you live. This year it begins on the evening of April 15.

The Passover Meal

Passover starts with a big ritual meal known as the Seder (say “say-der”), which means “order” in Hebrew. Family and friends come together to eat traditional dishes. 

the traditional Seder Plate, with hard-boiled eggs, greens, a lamb bone and more

A Seder plate with eggs, greens, lamb bone and more. (Photo by Edsel Little CC BY-SA 2.0)

A special Seder plate is placed on the table with symbolic foods that represent parts of the Passover story such as hard-boiled eggs, greens, a lamb bone, bitter herbs, salt water, haroset (a mixture of nuts, apples and wine) and matzah (say “ma-tsah”).

Matzah

a stack of matzah crackers

A stack of matzah bread. (mhaithaca/Visualhunt)

A very important food on the Seder table, matzah is a crunchy cracker-like bread made from flour and water that is unleavened. That means it hasn’t been allowed the time to rise.

The story goes that the Israelites were forced to leave Egypt so quickly that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. They put the dough in travelling sacks and as they crossed the desert, the hot sun baked the dough into the thin, hard matzah.

At the beginning of the Seder meal, one piece of the matzah is broken and a piece of it is hidden. After the meal, the children search for this piece, called the afikoman (say “a-fee-ko-mahn”), and the child who finds it gets money or candy as a reward.

Passover celebrations

Israel

a group of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men burn leavened food before Passover

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men burn leavened items (made with yeast) such as bread, as part of a ritual before the start of Passover, 2016. (Mehahem Kahana/Getty Images)

Passover is one of the most sacred holidays for Jews living in Israel and elsewhere.

They celebrate the seven-day festival by enjoying the first and last days as legal holidays and many take the week off to travel around the country.

During Passover, Jews refrain from eating leavened food (foods made with yeast) such as bread. Stores stop selling bread and bread products for the entire week.

Ethiopia

A ceramic plate broken into four pieces

A small plate broken into four pieces.

Some Ethiopian Jews destroy their dishes and cookware and make new ones to signify their hope for redemption.

Poland

In a small Polish town some Jewish people mark Passover by re-enacting the crossing of the Red Sea. They pour water on the floor, lift their coats and walk across, giving thanks with a raised glass as they go.

Nepal

women light candles at a Seder in Nepal

A group of Israeli women light candles during a Passover ceremony in Kathmandu, 2013. (Prakash Mathema/Getty Images)

Chabad of Nepal hosts the world’s largest celebration of Passover in Kathmandu, called Seder on Top of the World. It’s attended by Jewish locals and travellers who have come for the unique experience.

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