The Great Passover-Easter Smackdown
Today, friends, is both Good Friday and the beginning of Passover, which means that Christians and Jews celebrate important holidays at the exact same time rather than almost-at-the-same-time, as generally happens with Christmas and Hanukkah. Much to the chagrin of inter-religious couples everywhere, this weekend is an amazing confluence that could require attendance at both a Passover ritual meal, called a seder, and Easter Sunday brunch. Personally, I’ll be out of town at a wedding, but talking to friends of both faiths about their weekend plans got me thinking about the differences between the traditions. Below, a comparative analysis from a purely secular point of view. In other words, if you’re religious, you won’t want to read any further, as the irreverence and disinterest in matters of the spirit may offend you.
Easter: The Easter egg hunt is a key part of the Easter celebration, and it gets children frolicking outside on lawns — a healthy antidote to our increasingly hermetic lives. Sometimes children color the eggs as part of a family activity, which is creative and artistic and jolly. Those eggs are hard-boiled and not very appealing as a prize, but just as often these days, kids search for plastic eggs that open to reveal a surprise — generally candy, though I recently saw an article that suggested placing positive notes instead. Memo to parents: There is nothing you could write on a note that would taste as good, literally or figuratively, as candy.
Passover: We Jews have a hide-and-seek-style game too. Children search for the afikomen, a word derived from the Greek for dessert. There is nothing dessert-like about it, however, as it’s just a piece of matzo split in half. An adult places the afikomen into a dedicated velvet pouch or sticks it between a couple of paper towels and hides it somewhere in the house — often under a couch cushion that Great Aunt Sadie will sit on, unknowingly, so that by the time it’s discovered (“Sadie, lift your thigh!”) it’s in 500 tiny fragments that no one wanted anyway because, guess what? We’re going to be eating mostly matzo for the next week as it is! The upside? Whoever finds the afikomen gets a prize, which is money in many families except those with “values” and “ethics” in which case the prize is probably a plastic dreidel that will gather dust on the child’s dresser until they graduate from high school. Not that I speak from experience.
Easter: Children everywhere are delighted by the figure of the Easter Bunny — that is, if they’re not totally creeped out by it. Somehow kids are onto the Easter Bunny: They might still believe in Santa Claus, but they are not buying the adult in the gigantic-headed, moldering bunny costume holding a plastic basket of leftover Halloween candy. And adults don’t cotton to the Easter Bunny in the same way either: On the elevator at work I overheard someone ask a colleague if he was going to take his child to be photographed with the Easter Bunny, and his response was undisguised horror, as if he’d been asked if he was going to throw the baby into a volcano.
Passover: The seder table always has a glass of wine dedicated to Passover’s star: the prophet Elijah. At a certain point in the evening, we even open the door to let Elijah in, but there’s no adult who dresses up in Biblical clothing like him or anything; Elijah remains invisible. Inevitably, when the kids aren’t looking, an adult will take an enormous swig from Elijah’s glass so that some naive child will later say, “Look! Elijah was here! He drank his wine!” Oh, those are humorous moments. We laugh and laugh.
Let me break format for a moment and put it this way: Easter dinner often features a delicious lamb entree.
The seder plate at the center of the Passover ritual features a lamb shank. This pretty much sums it up.
Easter: There are people who actually sit outside of churches on Easter Sunday just to look at the outfits or to photograph them in all their multicolored splendor. And the hats! Oh my word, the hats. It was Irving Berlin (a Jewish man, incidentally) who wrote, “In your easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it / You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.” Easter Sunday is a terrific opportunity to break out spring dresses, too.
Passover: It’s customary to wear something nice to a seder, sure — maybe along the lines of business casual. Some families wear white. There are hats of a sort, too: They’re called yarmulkes, and primarily worn by the more observant Jewish folks. Oh, and then there are the hats worn by your male relatives who are trying to disguise their receding hairlines or general baldness. But those hats, well, they inspired no Irving Berlin material.
Easter: This weekend, according to Uwishunu, 25 restaurants will offer special Easter brunches. There will also be seven public Easter egg hunts, from Penn Treaty Park to Shady Brook Farm. There’ll be hayrides to “Bunnyland” at Linvilla Orchards, and the city’s 85th Easter Promenade will take place at Headhouse Square with live music, a parade and costume contests.
Passover: According to the same website, seven local restaurants will offer Passover dinners, while last week the National Museum of American Jewish History had a “Freedom Seder Revisited,” commemorating the original Freedom Seder that occurred on the one-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.
And there you have it. We’re not here to declare winners — that’s for you to decide — but as Jon Stewart once said, “I can’t help but feel that we Jews are getting our asses kicked out here.”
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