In honor of the start of Passover, I thought I'd share my own experience of my first Seder dinner with my family. For those of you who don't know, Seder dinner happens on the first two nights of Passover, which lasts for eight days. Everyone at the table reads from a book called a haggadah, which tells the story of when the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians under the rule of the Pharaoh Ramses II.
During the Seder, four glasses of wine are served (grape juice for the kids--unless they're the sneaky type) to represent the four stages of the flight from Egypt. Now, in most Jewish households, the four glasses are reduced to four sips, because it's only symbolic anyway and well, four glasses is a hell of a lot of alcohol--even for religious purposes.
My mother has always been somewhat of a teetotaler, has always been greatly affected by liquor, even in small amounts, so it was with great surprise when, after taking the obligatory sip of wine, a familiar motherly voice shouted, "Damn it, if we're going to do this thing, we're going to do it right! Now everyone start chugging!"
Passover just got a lot more interesting.
A fifth glass of wine is poured for the prophet Elijah, in anticipation of his return, upon which the Messianic age will begin. The Messianic age is the time when the messiah returns to earth and restores peace and prosperity to earth. This sounds great in theory, but for those who aren't pure Jewish (such as myself), the whole peace and prosperity to the earth thing gets a bit overshadowed by the fact that we won't be here to enjoy it. Bummer.
Near the end of Seder dinner, the head of the household ceremoniously opens the front door to invite Elijah in so he can enjoy that glass of wine set out for him on the table. As tradition dictated, my father got up from the table and opened the front door, just out of eyesight from the dinner table. No sooner did he crack open the door, when we heard a loud "Whoosh!" blow past and hurried steps racing through the door.
"It's Elijah! It's Elijah! Oh man, why did he choose us? Only one of us is even Jewish!" my mom screamed. My six-year-old nephew dived for cover under the table and cried.
"Everyone settle down!" my dad bellowed, "It was the cat. I can't believe we left her outside this entire time. She's a wreck!"
Upon hearing the happy news, my mom said, "Well then, I guess Elijah won't be needing this!" and downed the fifth glass of wine.
After peace had been restored and more glasses of wine poured, my nephew set out in search of the afikomen--a piece of matzoh that is hidden at the start of the meal. When the afikomen is found, the "finder" (usually a kid) receives money from whoever at the table has a ten.
Of course, the adults at the table use afikomen time to kick back and relax--usually not with Elijah's cup of wine, but we were new to the whole Seder scene. After an hour had gone by, however, we began to get a little worried. "Hon, where the heck is the matzoh?" my mom asked my dad.
"I wish I could remember."
"Oh, you're useless!"
"Well, I'm not the one who insisted on drinking a bottle of wine! Excuse me if my afikomen-remembering-skills are down."
"Would someone please go help the poor boy," my mom sighed.
The hunt was on as me and my semi-drunk sisters searched every nook and cranny of my parent's mammoth 21 acre spread. Two hours and a hangover later, we still hadn't found the afikomen. We slowly, painfully, walked back to the table in defeat.
My sister slumped down in her chair. "Man we are so bad at Seder."
The cat jumped in her lap. "How's it goin', Elijah?" she joked. "Hey... what have you got in your mouth, cat?"
Seeing as she had found the elusive matzoh, my dad had no choice but to award the cat the prize money. She gladly accepted in catnip.