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Easter and Passover, in my experience, donâ€™t create the same kind of difficulties as their winter counterparts, Christmas and Hanukkah. The Easter/Passover question fails to inspire the same degree of emotion as questions over the presence or absence of a Christmas tree in an interfaith familyâ€™s home. Still, each spring my family finds a new Easter/Passover balance, emerging from the little details of each celebration.
At the first PassoverÂ sederÂ I celebrated with my then-boyfriendâ€™s family, I remember the welcome in my future in-lawsâ€™ eyes as they told me that they hoped that all participants at their table would feel as if they, too, that very night, had been liberated from bondage. Although I came from a different background and different tradition, a seder in their home became a universal event, open to all who would experience the mystery of moving from suffering to joy.
Through the years, I learned that the seder at my in-lawsâ€™ house emphasized Earth Day, springtime, rebirth, reawakening and the joy of a new life, manifested in this world, here and now in this life. My spouse and I carried these themes into our own seder celebrations that welcome both family and friends. Like the wedding couple that breaks the glass as a reminder that even at a time of joy, brokenness remains in the world, each year at the seder my family recallsÂ tikkun olam,Â Judaismâ€™s message of healing the worldâ€™s broken places.
Although Iâ€™d been raised in a liberal Episcopalian environment, for me Easter had by then come to mean a springtime celebration of rebirth. Some years I attended Unitarian Universalist Easter services, singing â€śLo the Earth Awakes Againâ€ť in place of â€śJesus Christ is Risen Today,â€ť and thinking of my much more devout friends who mocked this seemingly watered-down springtime sentiment.
Passover, though, was anything but watered-down, especially after four cups of wine. It remains my husbandâ€™s favorite holiday, and as the better chef in our household, he delights in planning the menu, doing and re-doing theÂ haggadah and making sure that we have to extend our dining room table past its maximum capacity for the celebration to feel complete.
As Iâ€™ve experienced Passover with my extended family for the past 14 years, Passover makes a certain kind of sense. Each year,Â matzahÂ still tastes good for at least the first five days.Â Matzah breiÂ with smoked salmon and maple syrup, matzah served with leftoverÂ SephardicÂ charosetÂ (a delectably mortar-like concoction of dates, figs, nuts, spices and honey) and matzah granola liberally doused with honey and maple syrup, seem like the foods of heaven for the first few days. The leftover bottles of wine help wash the crumbs down when the matzah starts to lose its once-a-year appeal.
Beyond the food, Passover promotes a message of rebirth and liberation that aligns with both the anticipated return of springtime as well as good solid social justice.
Given all of this, each year I happily ceded the springtime holiday sensibilities to the Jewish half of my interfaith family (something Iâ€™ve never quite been able to do in December).
Passover became a rebirth I could sink my heart, and even my teeth, intoâ€”at least, until I provided grandchildren for my Easter-celebrating parents.
Once grandchildren came on the scene, suddenly my parents and grandparents wondered about chocolate bunnies, Easter eggs, gifts in pastel wrapping paper and other secularized symbols of the springtime season (and sometimes, even, if weâ€™d be attending church that year).
My childhood celebrations of Easter started pajama-clad as my brother and IÂ hunted for our Easter eggs, finding them in the closet, the dryer, the washing machine or other odd locations. We changed into fancy pastel clothing and drove to church, where the sweet smell of flowers and the triumphant sounds of trumpets and organ greeted us, after which we returned home to a fancy Easter dinner. We ate chocolate bunnies, dyed pastel eggs and I gave all my much-detested jellybeans to my brother in exchange for a few more egg-shaped Reeseâ€™s Peanut Butter Cups.
It shouldnâ€™t have surprised me, then, when my daughters looked forward eagerly to our neighborhoodâ€™s egg hunt. Even my husband, whoâ€™d initially and understandably balked at the idea of a Christmas tree in his home, wasnâ€™t alarmed at our children participating in what he called a â€śpagan celebration of springtime,â€ť as out the door they ran, baskets in hand, eggs and chocolate on their minds.
So, Iâ€™ve adjusted each year to a new balance between a childhood tradition that has come to mean considerably less, and an adult tradition that has come to mean so much more. My children happily accept Easter gifts when given, and look forward gleefully to matzah right around the corner (they love matzah!).
Still, I wonder, what does your family do when Easter and Passover overlap? Is it a dilemma in your house? If so, how do you handle it?
When we were studying Judaism together as a young couple, it made sense to buy into an â€śall inâ€ť model for a Jewish household. For our future childrenâ€™s sake, if we were choosing to raise them with a religion, we would stick to just one. Â It would be less confusing, and they could be engaged in a specific spiritual community where they could experience a sense of belonging. This would be better for their development, and would empower them to make well-grounded decisions about their spirituality as adults.
It also made sense that we would respect the religious beliefs of family members who were not Jewish by sharing in their celebrations and participating as guests. Guests who were also loving relatives. We would speak openly about their holidays and lovingly about Ericâ€™s personal history celebrating those holidays.
This relatively black and white idea seemed clear when our children were theoretical creatures. Seven-and-a-half years into our very real parenting journey, what I have found is that stepping thoughtfully into the gray area of this proposition not only strengthens our connections to our extended family, but also strengthens our nuclear family connectivity.
The â€śall inâ€ť model assumed we did not let Christian holidays into our home life, but we did celebrate them in our familiesâ€™ homes. This simple idea is complicated by the 2,000 miles between our home and Ericâ€™s parentsâ€™ and sisterâ€™s homes. Â
On days like Easter Sunday, we can get our heads around the Easter Bunny not coming to our house, and around the impossibility of teleporting to Colorado. But both Eric and I have trouble getting our heads around not doing something to mark a day so important to our heritage and celebrated by our closest family members.
So hereâ€™s where we are right now, as of Easter 2016. We donâ€™t celebrate Easter with a visit to church or the corresponding new Easter dresses. We do cherish the Easter eggs we get from Ericâ€™s parents, and the celebrations we share with friends who celebrate the holiday. And as a foursome, we celebrate that it is a day to think about and be with family, and to do something out of the ordinary that celebrates our lives together. Â
For us, this year, it was a fancier-than-usual breakfast with all the bells and whistles. Considering this breakfast, I canâ€™t help but think two things. First, I have witnessed as a parent how much children benefit from whatever black and white explanations we can provide for things as complicated as religion. On the other hand, if the gray area between celebrating something â€śall inâ€ť and not doing anything is finding an extra reason to celebrate love and family, there canâ€™t possibly be anything negative about spending quality time in the gray.