Passover Seder is a great tribute to a guest, for it is a religious festival celebrated by Jewish families in the sanctity of their homes. The services are of deep meaning and beauty, and the rituals follow closely those observed in ancient times.
Passover is celebrated in the spring of each year. Sometimes the date occurs at the same time as Easter. According to tradition, Christ was crucified before sundown on the fourteenth day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the date of Passover. Early Christians and Jews observed Passover and the Easter season at the same time. When Christians adopted the Roman calendar, which was based on the solar year, the observance of Easter became a variable date, the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (March 21st in our calendar today).
The observance of Passover commemorates the Exodus, or the deliverance of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. According to tradition, the name comes from the event that prepared the way for the Exodus, the sparing of the Hebrews in Egypt: God smote the first-born of the Egyptians, but passed over the homes of the Hebrews, which had been marked, according to God’s command, with the blood of the paschal lamb.
The Seder marks the beginning of Passover. It is held on the first and second nights of the eight-day observance, when the entire family gathers at the dinner table. This has been beautifully set, with flowers, ceremonial wine cups, and special dishes and objects uncontaminated by use during the rest of the year. These dishes (and cooking utensils used for this meal) are used only during the Passover holidays. The traditional Seder is both a meal and a service of worship, celebrated with prayers, songs, and blessings performed in the order which has been followed for centuries; Seder means “order.” Almost always there are guests at the table, for it is a custom to share the blessings of the holiday with friends, neighbors, and even strangers.
Among Orthodox and Conservative Jews the Seder is held on both the first and second nights of the eight-day holiday. Reform Jews, who observe a seven-day Passover, usually hold their Seder on the first evening.
The ritual for the Seder ceremonies is in the ancient book, Haggadah, which relates the Biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, led by Moses. Haggadah means “telling” and the Seder reflects the Biblical injunction, “Thou shalt tell thy son in that day saying, `It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth from Egypt.’ ”
The youngest child present at the Seder asks four traditional questions of his father, beginning with, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The answers from the Haggadah unfold the drama of the Exodus.