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In my family, we have big Passover seders. What started as a nice full table when my grandmothers, and then my mother and aunts hosted the seder has grown slowly but surely as my generation has partnered up and started having kids of our own. The table has filled to overflowing, and we’ve graduated to bigger tables, and even a bigger room as the family has grown. I love that my family gets together every Passover, that our core group always comes back. We’ve had seder guests come and go, and we love opening our home to new guests in years when it works well. Passover is, after all, a time to open the doors and invite in all who are hungry, or anyone who needs a seder to attend. There’s something very special about having new guests at the seder, adding their voices, their traditions, their take on leaving Egypt and being free.
What we’ve lost in intimacy, we’ve gained in the sense of being a whole tribe of people gathering to experience our liberation together. One year we played the biggest game of “I’m leaving Egypt and I’m bringing…” ever. Everyone was supposed to either bring an actual object to the seder table to show the group or at least decide in advance which one object they wanted to bring. By the time the game was over and we were ready to sit down to eat, it felt like we had a shared collection of memories (several people brought pictures of loved ones), objects of sentimental and spiritual value (like musical instruments), and practical considerations (a horse, a lamb, a roll of toilet paper).
With such a big core group, it’s not too uncommon that someone doesn’t make it for one reason or another, and it always makes me sad when we’re missing someone because of sickness, or injury or sad circumstances that keep them from coming. But there have been two occasions in the last number of years when we’ve been missing a significant chunk of our core because of pregnancy or birth. And though we’ve still missed those who didn’t get here, their absence came with a sense of anticipation and joy. And, after all, Passover is a holiday about change – about shaking up our normal reality and questioning what is going on here, and what does it mean. Nothing makes that happen in our lives like the birth of a baby. So it seems totally fitting that every so often, when a new baby is born in the family, our Passover reality is shaken up. We find ourselves full of questions and wonder, and when things go back to normal, the “normal’ is a little bit different.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since my cousin was pregnant with twins and when Passover rolled around she was on bed rest. While we tried to maintain the energy level and spirit of our traditional seder, that year, one branch of the family stayed with my cousin, and made a seder in bed! They reported back that it was a beautiful, sweet, lively, and comfortable holiday. They missed us too, and they came back, but for that year, they made the seder that worked for the mom-to-be and the babies on the way. And they had a great time.
Last year, another cousin was pregnant with a due date right around Passover. I suggested that it would be exciting and thematically fitting if she came anyway and had the baby at the seder, but she politely declined. As it turns out, the baby was born a few days before Passover. I guess he didn’t want to miss his first chance to be at a seder. Again, one branch of the family was missing here in Boston, as we took the opportunity to invite more guests to celebrate with us. We missed them, but we knew they were together, celebrating new life, going through a transformative moment in their lives, right on Passover, the holiday that celebrates a tremendous transformation in the history of the Jewish people.
Seders that happen around birth look a little different than usual. There may be less ritual, or more interruptions. Things may be less formal, or more intimate. With a birth coming up or a newborn baby, a family may end up celebrating the holiday with a different group than usual. And a family anticipating a new baby or with a baby at his or her first seder will certainly read the hagada with its themes of springtime, liberation, new beginnings, transformation, in a new light. The seder may be pared down to what’s most important, experiencing a transformative moment in the supportive company of family and friends. But the anticipation or the presence of a new life can draw our attention to this core theme of Passover which in other years it could be possible to miss.
And as the family grows, as the groups that missed a year, to make the Seder that their transforming families needed, transition back into the big seder we host at our house, the big seder changes in response to the new people who have joined us and the new parents that we’re growing to be. We do more to keep the kids engaged. If we can, we plan things that will engage the kids and adults at the same time. The table keeps growing, but as it turns out, it’s hard to keep the group we’ve grown to be at the table. The kids need a chance to get up and move around. Some of the adults do too! After the meal, the kids fall asleep, one by one, some in their beds and others just nod off at the table. Some of the adults do too. By the very end, we’re a smaller group gathered around one end, or corner, of a very big table. Or sometimes we’re gathered around the couch where a lucky few have snagged the best seats for the end of the seder. So this year with that in mind, I’m shaking up reality. I’m freeing our family from tables and chairs and planning the seder on the couch, and on the floor, with pillows and picnic seats. We’ll start out at tables, and we’ll eat the meal there, but for the story-telling, discussing and singing late into the night, we’re moving to a circle of cushion on the other side of the room, where we can be closer, and hopefully more comfortable. The kids will have room to move around in the middle of the circle and as they fall asleep we can draw closer together and keep our circle complete.
What about you? How has your seder changed when your family has grown? Would a seder in bed, or with a small close group, or on a pile of cushions on the floor work for you this year?
How will you set the stage for your family and friends to experience something new and freeing?
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