The First Day of Passover falls on the 15th day of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, and takes place on November 30 this year. In the Gregorian calendar, Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called ‘Pesach’ in Hebrew, traditionally begins in late March or early April. Considered one of the oldest in history, this holiday is the first day of the Jewish ritual of Passover, which lasts seven or eight days. The festival celebrates the freedom and exit of the Jews from slavery in Egypt over 3,000 years ago.
Holy Week takes on special significance this year with the appearance of both Passover and Easter.
The Jewish holiday commemorates the Biblical story of Exodus — where God freed the Israelites from Egypt. Passover, celebrated for eight days, begins with an evening Seder — a traditional dinner with very specific foods and wine. This meal includes readings from the “Haggadah,” which tells the holiday’s story. Themes include family, Jewish history, social justice, and freedom.
Passover aligns with the Hebrew calendar; thus, the date changes every year. It traditionally begins after sundown on the evening of the full moon (or the 14th day) of the month of Nisan, in 2023 it falls on April 5.
Read on for recipe ideas as well as the Seder’s traditional “4 Questions.”
History of Passover
Passover is the most-celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. It celebrates the liberation and exodus of the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt over 3,300 years ago. According to the “Torah,” Jews are to observe Passover for seven days, beginning on the 15th of the Hebrew month Nisan, which usually occurs between late March and early April.
On the first evening of Passover, the Jews eat a special Passover Seder (ritual dinner) with close family and friends. Jews outside of Israel also eat a second seder on the second evening of Passover. At the feast, they also read the “Haggadah,” which retells the story of the release of the Jews from slavery, and drink a cup of wine at specific times during the story. Served on a special plate, the traditional Passover Seder features foods symbolic to the Passover story, which are eaten at 15 different stages during the reading of the “Haggadah.”
Foods on the Passover Seder plate include matzos (loaves of unleavened bread, symbolizing the Israelites’ hasty departure from Egypt), maror (bitter herbs, symbolizing the maltreatment and agony the Jews experienced during slavery), chazeret (bitter lettuce, often romaine), and charoset (a brown-textured nut and fruit paste). Other items include karpas (a vegetable, such as parsley or celery, dipped in salt water or vinegar), beitzah (a hard-boiled egg), and zeroa, or z’ora (a roasted goat, chicken, or lamb bone). The last two items represent the sacrifice offered in the Temple of Jerusalem.
At the end of the seder, participants pray and sing, and they rest during the day to commemorate their freedom.
Historians believe the Israelites' monumental event took place over 3,000 years ago.
Jews begin copying the “Haggadah,” literally ‘narration,’ detailing the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as a separate book.
Between 1880 and the onset of immigration quotas in 1924, over 2 million Jews from Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Romania came to America.
American coffee company Maxwell House begins printing the English-Hebrew Passover “Haggadah” as a marketing campaign for their kosher for Passover coffee.
President Barack Obama becomes the first sitting president to host and attend a Passover Seder at the White House in April.
Passover went gourmet as the esteemed "Bon Appétit" magazine published "18 Recipes Everyone Will Actually Want to Eat on Passover."
It's Super Passover! Former DC Comics editor Jordan B. “Gorf” Gorfinkel and Israeli artist Erez Zadok publish the first graphic novel version of the Passover.
What can’t you eat during Passover?
During Passover, Jews and adherents of the Jewish faith are prohibited to eat, drink, or possess ‘chametz.’ ‘Chametz’ (or ‘chometz’) is any leavened food made from grains (barley, rye, spelled, oats, and wheat) that can ferment. Therefore, they cannot consume food such as bread, pasta, cake, beer, cookies, pizza, and some types of liquor and other foods during Passover. Dishes and cutleries must be thoroughly cleaned to remove any trace of the chametz if they will be used to cook or eat kosher food for the holiday.
What is the Passover in the Bible?
Also called ‘Pesach,’ Passover is the Jewish festival commemorating the story in the book of Exodus detailing how God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The Old Testament book of Exodus narrates how Passover should be observed and celebrated by the Israelites.
What is the Passover and why is it important?
Passover remembers the Exodus event in biblical history — when Israelites were freed by God from slavery in Egypt.
How to Observe Passover
Try making matzah
While matzah (unleavened flatbread) can seem intimidating to make, it's actually quite easy. Just use special Passover flour, water, salt, and oil.
Read up on Exodus
The second book of the Old Testament tells how Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, following their journey through the wilderness to Mount Sinai.
Clean your home before Passover begins
This is in order to make your home kosher for the holiday. Make sure to get all of the hard-to-reach places that you don't normally clean!
5 Interesting Facts About Passover
Several names, one festival
Passover, or Pesach, is also sometimes referred to as Chag HaMatzot (Festival of Unleavened Bread), Chag Ha Herut (Festival of Freedom), and Chag Ha-Aviv (Festival of Spring).
Biggest matzah in the world
According to the Guinness World Records, the world’s largest matzah ball measured 29.2 inches wide, weighed 267 pounds, and was made by Noah’s Ark Original Deli in New York City in August 2009!
Maxwell House’s “Haggadah”
Coffee company Maxwell House’s Passover “Haggadah” is the most widely distributed “Haggadah” in the United States, with over 60 million copies in circulation as of April 2020.
Kathmandu hosts the largest seder
Every year, over 1,000 attendees from all over the world flock to the world’s largest Passover Seder in Kathmandu, Nepal.
A cup and a seat for Elijah
Jews often reserve an empty seat at the table and a fifth, untouched cup of wine is poured ceremoniously (and left untouched) for the prophet Elijah, whom they believe will return someday to announce the arrival of the Messiah.
Why Passover is Important
Children play a big role
Jews retell the Passover story during the Seder. Children receive treats for asking questions and participating in the sacred traditions. The First Day of Passover rituals also include the four questions asked by children. Most times, the youngest child of the family asks the four traditional questions about the Passover Seder, and why the first night is different from the festival’s other nights. As a tradition, children also find or steal the afikomen, a piece of matzo hidden somewhere in the house to be eaten later as dessert. If a child steals or steals the afikomen, the adults have to negotiate a release with candy, toys, or other small prizes.
Guests eat a variety of ancient foods during the Seder. This includes the z'roa, a lamb shank bone or roast chicken wing, and the haroset, a mixture of apples, cinnamon, honey, and sweet wine. Jews often reserve an empty seat at the table and a fifth, untouched cup of wine is poured ceremoniously (and left untouched) for the prophet Elijah, whom they believe will return someday to announce the arrival of the Messiah. During the Seder, guests drink four glasses of red wine. While this wine can be sweet and syrupy, there are now many delicious, high-quality kosher options from which to choose.
A story of freedom and liberation
For the Jews, Passover is a festival of freedom, independence, and a new life. For many years, the Israelites had lived under difficult circumstances in Egypt. Passover and the First Day of Passover commemorate their freedom and transition into a life of freedom from slavery, torture, and hard labor over 3,000 years ago.