Passover is coming up this weekend; Saturday April 19 is the first night of the eight night holiday. If you celebrate and are hosting the seder, you are free to begin panicking now.
Non-Jews often have no idea how big a holiday Passover is. In my husband's family, it is, hands-down, the most important one. I tell people it's like Thanksgiving, only much, much bigger. In addition to a feast, which often features a huge turkey to feed the crowd, you have an elaborate ceremony, maybe 5-6 ceremonial food dishes, the four-plus cups of wine, and all important Passover story. It is the ultimate "family" dinner.
Since both my husband and I like to cook and throw a party, we have often been the house of choice to host the family seder. We've skipped hosting some years and let others take turns, but it always seemed as if all roads led back to Brooklyn, the Freedman/Sanders motherland, for Passover. These tend to be huge affairs. Just "the family" coming to seder means 25 people, and there are usually friends or companions that get added last minute. It's a lot of work, but usually a lot of fun. Somehow this year, we're going to host a seder for 30+ people, not in our home kitchen or even our home town. Advanced planning required.
Last year's seder was especially memorable, so the standard bar is high. Jonny, my father-in-law, presided over the seder with expertise, humor, and deft skill in timing. The last is especially important as both cranky kids and guests get cranky with the long ceremony and no food until the prescribed time. The meal took place in our, then, newly renovated house, so there seemed to be lots of room for eating, and conversing, and serving the multiple courses of food. It was hailed all around as one of the best family seders ever.
This year won't be the same. This year will be our first without Jonny, who suddenly and unexpectedly died in his sleep this past June. He was so well-loved and we miss him dearly. To try to fill in this gaping hole in our life, our brood and many others are flying to Atlanta to host the seder in my mother-in-law's home. She really can't pull together the meal herself. So, the idea is that we and the other "children" will shop, cook, and prepare everything in two days and host the first night seder on Saturday. There will be a lot of craziness, some tension, and, I'm sure, a few tears. Those four cups of wine will come in handy as usual. But there will be memories, no doubt, and joy in reuniting our extended family for Passover.
Some Passover resources and articles:
Passover Fun website: 30 minute seder
Ten Tips for Cooking Passover Seder, About.com
It's "Hide the Matzo" for Real: Where are the Tam-Tams? NYT, March 27,2008
Matzo sells like hot cakes NYT, April 13, 2008