Passing the Passover Plate

It happens in every family — a rite of passage that marks a new life stage — when you give up, or take over, hosting family holiday dinners. As I take out our Seder plate and Passover dishes, I think back to when I assumed this function for our family, and wonder when my children will assume it for me.

passover tablecloth  Passing the Passover Plate passover tablecloth

If you’re lucky, these role changes occur over time. You offer to make the chicken soup or brisket, you arrive early to help set up or stay late to help clean. And then one day, you are hosting the holiday meal, and your parents and children are helping you. These are happy transitions, that you make of your own will and where you control the timing. But sometimes, change is thrust upon you, because someone passes away or is ill. These changes are no less natural, but both metaphorically and physically, there is an empty place at the table.

There seems to be no set age when you “become the grown up.” Some people host holiday meals well into their eighties; others shift the responsibility in their fifties, sixties or seventies. I’m not sure how families decide when to change their routine and custom.

Passover is unique, perhaps, because you can host the holiday meal, and a parent can lead the Seder or formal retelling of the departure from Egypt. You can assume the physical work, and an older family member can still have the role of patriarch or matriarch. Perhaps every religion has holidays and rituals that pass this same way from one generation to another.

My husband and I are hosting Passover this year, but already my kids have started the Passover passage. My daughter is arriving the night before to help set up and prepare her famous matzo-spinach lasagna. My older son is helping his dad make chicken soup, and my younger son will help arrange our furniture to accommodate a crowd of 20. We plan to hold Seder at our house for many years to come, but we are grateful for the help, and thankful that our kids are interested in preserving the tradition.

As with all holiday traditions, initiating change is hard. When we once suggested moving away from brisket, there was widespread family rebellion. Every departure from a favorite dish, it seems, is suspect or outright vetoed in advance.  It seems that dishes served year after year become comfort foods that define the holiday. And in part, I like this. For decades, a friend’s mother prepared a broccoli-corn casserole for Thanksgiving. Although her mom died five years ago, my friend and her dad still prepare the same broccoli-corn casserole together every year. In doing so, they honor her mother’s memory, and more important in my mind, celebrate the relationship she has with her dad.

I heard today about a new custom, a lovely one, and although I am not sure it is right for us, it may be for others. Each year, everyone who attends this Seder signs their name on the tablecloth. My friend then embroiders the names, and the next year, the same tablecloth is used and that year’s names are added. They are starting their third year of this tradition, and already her children have said that this tablecloth is one of the things they most want when they “grow up.”

Personally, I like incorporating new traditions in with the old. It makes holidays into living things that evolve and change over time. Passing the baton to the next generation on Passover is like that too. It is as if, through change, we keep things the same.

So what about you? When did you assume the role of host for holiday meals in your family? What new traditions have become part of your holidays?

5 Comments Passing the Passover Plate

  1. Karen Messinger

    Long after my Mother hosted Holiday meals her contribution to Passover was to make the chicken soup and Matzo Balls. It was nine years after her death before I could make the matzo Balls.
    Your gradual movement toward the younger generation and current shared chores reads well. Happy Passover in all the meaning of those words.

    1. Margit Novack

      HI Karen
      I am really blessed that Arwyn takes sio much pleasure in preparing for Passover. This year she stayed with us from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, both cooking and helping to prepare as well as clean up. We never could have done it without her.

  2. Robyn Jacobson

    I’m enjoying all of your posts Margit. This one really hit home for me. My Grandma passed away around Pasover 6 years ago and it’s always a difficult time for me because it was her holiday to shine. She made great matzah ball soup, flarf (a strawberry meringue whip), and every Passover friendly baked good she could concoct. I think this year I am going to encourage my cousins to start a new family tradition….a Passover warm up so to speak….make some of my Grandma’s recipes to share with residents of the retirement facilities who don’t have an opportunity to bake for Passover.

    Keep blogging – it’s a joy to read.

  3. Ann Levin

    When my daughter entered 5th grade at her day school 19 years ago, she told me that her head of school suggested having everyone who attends your Seder sign and date their name in the front of the Haggadah each year. Now, getting one you have signed in previous years is a real treat. It’s been a great tradition for us! We have our and our friends’ parents that are no longer here and children who missed years when they were away at college and have come back to join us as young adults!


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