There’s a reason that neat little Passover ritual is called a seder, and not just a holiday tableside hangout. The Hebrew word “seder” means order, and so we’re supposed to read the haggadah in order, going through the motions step by step and culminating in a fun little song about an iconic goat. But here’s the problem with traditional seders, or at least the ones I’ve attended in recent years with my toddler: My son never makes it to the song about the goat. In fact, he barely makes it to the second cup of wine.
The reason? He gets tired. Heck, I get tired during the seder and often find myself struggling to stay awake past that second cup (though in my case, I could conceivably mitigate that problem by sipping grape juice instead of Merlot).
But considering that last year we had to keep him up past his bedtime just to attend the seder in the first place, to allow my son to take part in the entire ritual would require my very traditional family to mix things up a bit. Namely, we’d need to skip over the meal and save it for the end (even though it’s supposed to go in the middle), skip, skim, or rush through those pages of lengthy text (not that I don’t want to hear Rabbi Jose of Galilee’s interpretation of how the 10 plagues were actually so much worse than we initially thought, but to my son, it means nothing), and hit up the major songs and rituals before my son falls asleep at the table.
Now if you’re wondering why we don’t just start the whole thing much earlier, the reason is that my parents are Orthodox, and according to Orthodox tradition, the seders cannot begin until after sundown. Along these lines, my father makes a point of going to synagogue for evening services before the seders every year, and so to start early would mean to start without him, which isn’t an option I’d even consider.
So I’m torn. On one hand, I love our family tradition of reading the entire haggadah in order, stopping to sing each song and partake in the rituals I looked forward to so much as a young child. On the other hand, I don’t want my son to miss out on the good stuff because he’s too young to stay up so late.
I mentioned the idea of an abridged seder to my mom recently in passing, and though she didn’t seem thrilled with it, I know it’s something she’d be willing to consider. Like me, she agrees that the draw of this year’s seder is bringing our family together and watching my son sing and smile his way through the haggadah. (And if there’s anyone in this world who loves my son and would do pretty much anything for him, it’s my mom.) I have a feeling that if I really push it, my family will agree to a version of the seder that’s different from what we’ve always known.
But do I really want to ask?
And it’s not just a matter of not wanting to rock the boat or impose on my parents. A big part of me would miss the traditional seder I’ve come to know and love. Sure, we all get a little cranky when it’s after midnight and our bellies are full of kugel and matzah ball soup and we’re told that it’s time to once again open the haggadah for another 20+ pages of text and song. But it’s a feeling we’ve all come to expect, and maybe even cherish, at least to an extent. (I mean, it’s not Passover if you don’t go to bed semi-grumpy and exhausted.)
That said, as much as it pains me to mess with tradition, I probably will push for an abridged or altered seder, and here’s why: Retelling the story to our children is an integral part of the mitzvah of Passover, and what better way to do so than to start our kids young? If that means changing things up a bit, so be it.
With any luck, we’ll all enjoy our revised seder just as much as the seders of years past, only this time around, if all goes well, we’ll have a sweet, adorable, enthralled little 4-year-old along for the entire ride.