This year my wife and I will be spending one Seder at her mother’s and one at my mother’s but, in the future, we may be starting our own Passover traditions. And, I admit, I am completely lost.
I began thinking about the Passovers I knew growing up, and how the holiday was the same every year. There’d be an occasional change in which random elderly cousin coughed a lot in the last seat, but from five to fifteen years old, I had twenty identical seders.
It would be unfair of me to expect that the Seders my wife and I might throw in the future will involve just my traditions and not hers. So to help me think about which I’d like to keep (and entertain a few readers simultaneously), I wanted to recount the memories that most say Passover to me. I’d bet at least a few of these will remind you of your childhood, and help you determine what you’d like to keep, should you ever JDate your way to your own family.
The holiday started with my mother spending hours cleaning the oven while listening to ads for Schmerling’s chocolate. We never bought any Schmerling’s, but I still remember the theme song. Maybe we never bought any because we always associated Schmerling’s with the smell of Easy Off.
What we did buy was lots of other candy. Our staples were ring jells, Lollicones, those sugar covered fruit jellies that were in the shape of tiny pieces of watermelon, and a truck load of marshmallows. Passover was the only time of year where it was easy to find kosher marshmallows, so we bought every kind we could. My favorites were the chocolate covered pink bumpy marshmallows. The white ones were an acceptable substitute, but the pink ones were the real thing.
Preparing, we’d help my mother clean for as long as we had to before one of us came up with an excuse for why they shouldn’t clean. My mother would only fall for this briefly before we were right back scrubbing away. Perhaps my most important future Passover tradition will be a maid.
We’d know the Seder was getting close when the cabinets and the fridge were all covered in paper, and my father finished making the charoset. My sister usually helped, mainly to sneak some wine.
As the Seder approached, we distributed the Maxwell House haggadot, where the transliterated Hebrew was spelled out as if everyone had a Brooklyn accent. These haggadot are the tradition I miss the most, as my mother switched brands when I was in college. Part of what I miss is our teasing every time my mother would change the “He” and the “Him” to gender-neutral terms.
One of my sisters would speed read, my brother would keep us all on task of whose turn it was, I would substitute words to see if anyone was really listening, and my other sister would insist on reading in Hebrew, even though her Hebrew was as fluent as Moses’ English.
We also decided which child was which of the four sons, and were happy to play our parts, despite our mother’s constant protest that we were ALL the good child. That’s right, “child” and not “son.” Even the four sons had to be gender-neutral.
As the youngest, the four questions always fell on me – so I did my best to get through them with as few breaths as possible. We used celery for karpas, which led to my father making the same joke every year about how “it sounded like a Doritos® factory.” To this day, I am sure my father never took a tour of a Doritos factory.
The meal was constant – egg soup, chicken soup (I guess the egg DID come before the chicken), gefilte fish, salad with my mother’s Passover dressing, Dr. Brown’s everything, and then some sort of giant meat dish none of us had room for. The main thing that varied was who would find the Afikomen, and how they would tease the others that missed out.
That was our main dynamic. My brother, one sister, and I cracking jokes, my father trying to join in, our elderly relatives watching quietly (except while coughing), my mother telling us to be more respectful, and my other sister echoing my mother. My parents are now divorced, three of the kids are married, and my sister can finally read fluent Hebrew, but my Passover memories are frozen in 1994. Though it’s been 17 years since we’ve all had a Seder together, it’s hard for me to see Passover any other way.
I’m glad my wife and I are splitting our uncomfortable confusion equally this year. In the future, we will probably take a few traditions from each side to create our own holiday. And as long as that includes the pink bumpy marshmallows, I’m okay with that.
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