It’s that time of year again: preparing the house for Passover, and especially for the biggest Jewish event of the year, the seder. So with all of the time, effort, and money we expend on this, what is it that our kids and grandkids really remember? I recently conducted an informal survey, asking numerous people of varying ages to share their favorite seder memories. Since the seder seems to favor the number four (children, questions, cups of wine), I will present the top four responses.
1. “Grandma Esther’s Brisket”
Not too surprisingly, many of the Passover memories I heard revolved around food.
People remember helping parents and grandparents prepare the food (“helping my mom make haroset and chopped liver;” “making knaidels for the soup with Grandma;” “helping Gramps peel the eggs”) as well as eating delicious foods that were made just for the holiday (“of course, Mom’s lamb stew;” “Bubbe’s Passover chocolate cake”). A number of people remember having fun with cousins and siblings preparing foods for the seder (“dipping strawberries in chocolate with my brother;” “my cousins and I made Aunt Suzy’s chocolate dipped matzah”).
It’s official. Food still remains a major pathway to create memories that last.
2. “I just remember us having such a great time singing all of those songs.”
Singing songs at the seder almost topped the list as the seder activity that was most enthusiastically remembered. “Chad Gadya” (the story about One Little Goat) was #1 on the hit parade of songs recalled. One woman recalled fondly, “Charlotte’s dad, who made strange mooing sounds when he acted out the part of the ox” in singing “Chad Gadya.”
And although some remember their zayde fondly singing the entire haggadah with a special tune, it was more common to hear stories of joy and relief when Grandpa interrupted the endless narrative and said, “Let’s get to the hits!” All would eagerly turn to the back of the haggadah and start singing.
Many mentioned the songs that have been more recently created in English, with last year’s biggest number being variations on “Let It Go” from the Disney movie, “Frozen.” There were also countless memories of frogs jumping around, and the classic “Ballad of the Four Children” sung to “Clementine.”
3. “The thrill of finding the afikomen and then re-hiding it again with my cousins.”
Indeed, afikomen stories were the number one response in terms of fabulous memories of the seder itself. Interestingly, no one reminisced about a particular afikomen present they received. Rather, the stories involved intense memories surrounding looking for and finding this piece of matzah, often involving grandparents. Here’s one typical story:
“I am very lucky as I was able to hear my Grandpa lead the seder until I was well into college. Every year, he claimed to hide the afikomen, and my brothers and I would watch him closely, but we never saw him leave his seat at the table! After he passed away, we were astonished to find out that each year during the meal, he would secretly pass off the afikomen to my grandma, who was the one who hid it!”
Another person recalled, “My grandfather would secretly tell me where the afikomen was.” Oh, for the time when the afikomen loomed so large!
4. “Cousins Hedy and Lennie and I used to sneak wine instead of grape juice and we would turn pink and have a case of the giggles.
Being a little bit naughty was definitely part of the fun of the seder for some. But what this quote really reveals was the everlasting importance of being together as a family. One woman told of 20 relatives, all her aunts and uncles and cousins, all staying overnight together in rather tight quarters with Grandma and Grandpa. Several wrote of memories of the cousins hanging out together in the den or basement, making up songs, skits, and just having the best time ever being together.
Or as one young man, now a father himself, wrote:
“We did the seder as a big family, including some close friends who we considered family. Everyone participated, from the youngest (me) to the oldest (Grandpa Harry, of blessed memory). We were all part of a communal mitzvah, and that feeling of communal responsibility remains deep within me to this day.”
So that’s it, folks. The fabulous four: Food, Songs, Afikomen Fun, and Family. If you provide these elements, you are sure to have a seder that will be remembered fondly, by your children… and your grandchildren.