Passover, the Festival of Freedom, celebrates the liberation of Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
It is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar, and families around the world will be celebrating today.
Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, traditionally lasts for seven days. This year it began yesterday evening (27 March) and it will finish in the evening of 4 April.
The holiday celebrates the liberation of the Israelites, who, according to Exodus, had been slaves in Egypt for 210 years.
God promised he would release them – but the Pharaoh continued to refuse.
God sent ten plagues demonstrating his power, each worse than the last, warning that Pharaoh must release the slaves.
He turned the river Nile to blood, sent locusts, diseased livestock and eventually killed the first born son of each family.
Before carrying out this tenth and final plague, God told the Jewish families to put lamb’s blood on the doors of their homes so the plague would pass by them, keeping them safe. This is why the day is called Passover.
After the death of the first born sons in the tenth plague, Pharaoh finally agreed to release the Jewish slaves.
Passover celebrations begin on the 15th day of Nisan, which means the date changes every year.
With the UK having the 5th largest Jewish population, there is estimated to be around 300,000 Jewish people in the UK who will celebrate this special day.
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How is Passover celebrated?
The evening before the festival begins, Jews have a special meal with friends and family called a Seder.
Four cups of wine are placed on the table reminding Jews of the four times God had promised freedom to them. They begin with the first cup of wine and recite the Kiddush blessing.
They leave the door open for Elijah, as Jews believe that Elijah will appear to announce the coming of Messiah.
The meal is also known as a special service, it includes the story of Exodus being told from a book called Haggadah. Family and friends around the dinner table take turns reading from this book, reading aloud in both Hebrew and English.
They enjoy a special passover meal which includes six different components on a Seder plate, each representing a different part of the story when the Israelites were slaves.
- Chazeret – such as a romaine lettuce or endive, representing the bitterness of slavery
- Beitzah – a hard boiled egg, the symbol of mourning
- Charoset – a sweet, brown paste made of fruit and nuts, representing the mortar that the Israelites made for building bricks
- Maror – a bitter herb, made from horseradish, similar to Chazeret they symbolise the bitter suffering
- Z’roa – a lamb bone, representing the lamb that was scarified and taken to the temple the night before the Israelites left Egypt
- Karpas – Celery stalks or parsley dipped into a bowl of salted water. These symbolise the spring harvest and tears when they were slaves
Also included in their meal are flat breads called Matzah.
When the Israelites left Egypt, they had made bread for the journey but were in such a hurry to leave they didn’t have time to let the bread rise.
The book tells them what food to eat, what order to eat these foods in and what they each represent.
During the meal everyone has a cushion they lean on, this reminds them of their heritage and that they are now free people, no longer slaves.
A lot of songs are included in this special service, children are encouraged to ask questions and the family recites the Hallel prayer together at the end whilst drinking their fourth and final cup of wine.
Seven to eight days after the first Seder meal Jewish people will refrain from eating gluten foods such as bread, cakes and muffins.
While the first and last day of Passover are the major holidays, it is still celebrated throughout the week, gathering with friends, family, going on outings and enjoying picnics together.
How do you wish someone Happy Passover
To wish somebody a happy Passover in Hebrew, you can say “Chag Sameach” which translates as “happy holiday”.
You can also say “Chag Pesach sameach” which means “happy Passover”.