For many of us preparation for Passover begins right after the Purim holiday. We get to eat, drink and be merry on Purim, just in time for the most hectic holiday season of year. If you ask me, Purim should come after Passover, so we can celebrate our survival of the “Passover Pandemonium” but history made sure it was the reverse.
Everyone I know has different plans for Passover. Some will just pick up and go to a hotel, others will travel to family members, and many will stay home and prepare for the Passover holiday. I decided to take an informal survey among my friends and co-workers to determine how intense their Passover cleaning preparation actually becomes. Many, even those who go away for Passover, choose to use this time of year to do a thorough “spring cleaning.”
The tradition of spring cleaning has a variety of sources, but in the Jewish household, the origin of spring cleaning can be traced to Passover, in remembrance of our hasty flight from Egypt following our captivity there. During the eight day holiday we refrain from all leavened foods and we rid our homes of all remnants of chametz for the length of the holiday. Therefore, for the past 3,500 years, observant Jews have conducted a thorough “spring cleaning” of the house, followed by a traditional hunt for chametz crumbs by candlelight called “bedikat chametz” on the evening before the holiday begins.
Passover is as much about the preparation, as it is the celebration. This year I will have 10 adults and 12 children under the age of 9 at my seder table, not to mention additional guests during other meals. Our group includes my immediate family, children, grandchildren and close friends. My daughters and daughter in law all love to help me design the menu. We always spend at least two to three days gathered in the kitchen the week before Passover cooking. We have lots of fun trying new recipes and reminiscing about past Passover seders. When my children were little I used to have fun creating unique things they had to do in order to qualify for their afikomen presents. It wasn’t enough to return the afikomen and negotiate a toy or prize, but rather they had to recite the Ma Nistanah while hopping on one foot and spinning around in a circle. We have some wonderful memories of those Passover sedorim and the children had so much fun, and I am happily passing my traditions down to my grandchildren.
My preparation generally starts the day after Purim. I begin by making lists. I figured out some time ago that if I start early and am systematic then the pre-holiday preparation is manageable rather than enormous.
I plot out the next four weeks based on when I will do my shopping, cleaning, cooking and staging the seder. I create elaborate menus for the entire Passover holiday and then itemize every food item I will need. Every year I promise myself I will not overbuy certain items we never really use, but shopping for Passover food is just so much fun. Each year I’m excited to see what new food items are available kosher for Passover. Whether I know for sure that I will use them or not, I have to try them. Then it’s back to revising the menu based on the new items I found.
Cleaning is a whole separate list. Cleaning is based on which rooms I can get done and out of the way first, leaving the common living areas – the kitchen and dining room for last. I am guilty of using Passover as an excuse to do a major spring cleaning of the entire house. I get a little overanxious about cleaning all the cobwebs and washing the windows, even though it is absolutely not required for Passover. As much as I try to finish the whole house in time for Passover, inevitably there are things I cannot get to. I’ve learned that when the going gets tough – just sell it and forget it!
Next comes the fun part – cooking! I love experimenting with new recipes and bringing out my cherished old ones. I get excited as I plan all the meals and the house takes on that special Passover flavor and aroma. I’m not sure why, but food just tastes better on Passover. I’m sure it has something to do with the freshness and purity of all the ingredients. I rely on the OU Kashrus Passover guide which is distributed right after Purim. The OU guide is truly a lifesaver when it comes to questions about which products may be used for Passover and the extensive variety of thousands of OU certified products which are kosher for Passover.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s there were limited items we could use on Passover. Well times certainly have changed over the past 30 years in the booming kosher industry. In the ‘70’s there were approximately 3000 kosher certified products found in supermarkets. Today there are over 70,000. For the food industry, Passover is the busiest season for kosher manufacturers. Many will see up to 50% or their annual sales and revenues sold right before Passover.
Today you can find kosher for Passover products in almost every food category. From baby food to ice cream, many manufacturers want to produce a kosher for Passover line. The OU hotline rings off the hook during the Passover season with an increase in kashrus questions. Our Passover and Communications department works for months to get the Passover directory ready in time for Purim. To many, the OU Passover Guide is a blessing they could not live without.
It’s usually around the last week before Passover that I remember to set aside some “me” time, to reward myself for all my hard work. Sometimes I will buy myself something new to wear, and other times all I need is a walk outside to get some air and clear my head. Two days before the holiday I try to get some much needed rest and relaxation so that I can enjoy the festivities of the Passover seder. With all the work demanded on Passover preparation, nothing is more important than arriving rested, calm, happy and in good cheer.
Finally, it’s time to set the stage for the seder. I set the table the night before and make it as festive as possible. Our Passover dishes always look so new, even though many of the pieces have been passed down through the family over generations. My grandchildren love to help at this stage. Preparing the seder plate with the six symbolic items bring their Passover lessons to life. During the seder itself, we make sure there are opportunities for the children to participate and share everything they’ve learned in school.
Spending Passover with family and friends is the best part of the holiday. These are the moments I treasure that make all the hard work worthwhile. Chag Sameach!