How to Explain Passover to a Child

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Unleavened bread, called Matzah, on a plate.
Unleavened bread, called Matzah, on a plate. (Image: jrwasserman/iStock/Getty Images)

Passover marks the anniversary of the Jews' miraculous departure from Egypt, the end of a long and brutal period of slavery and the symbolic birth of the Jewish nation. Outside Israel, Jews celebrate Passover -- "Pesach" in Hebrew -- for eight days. When explaining the ins and outs of Passover to a child, emphasize how kids are a central focus of the holiday.

Clean Sweep

Discuss how Jews get ready for the holiday. When the Jews left Egypt, they had to scramble out fast; Pharoah and the Egyptians were close on their heels, so they had little time to prepare and pack. Racing against time, they couldn't wait for their dough to rise, so they baked it into matzo, a flat cracker-like bread. In keeping with Jewish law, Jews get rid of their chametz -- leavened products that include bread, cookies, noodles and pretzels -- before the holiday begins. Instead, they stock up on matzo. Some Jewish families take the chametz prohibition very seriously; they want to track down and destroy the tiniest remnants. In their homes, the entire family gets in on the act, sweeping and mopping the floors; scrubbing the refrigerator, oven and countertops; vacuuming the car; emptying drawers and school bags; and turning pockets inside-out.

Frogs and Boils

Describe a typical Seder to children. Jews living outside Israel have a Seder on each of the first two nights of Passover. The word "Seder" means "order" in Hebrew and refers to the 15 sequential sections of the Haggadah, a book designed especially for Passover. The Haggadah mentions the back-breaking labor endured by the Jews in Egypt and the 10 Plagues -- including frogs, grasshoppers and hail -- that preceded their exodus and the miraculous crossing of the Sea of Reeds. The people who designed the Haggadah wanted to give future generations of Jews -- your child included -- a way to connect to the Passover story and re-experience the journey from slavery to freedom. They wanted to keep kids awake and excited during the Seder, so they included certain props -- such as the Seder plate, pillows for reclining and Elijah's cup -- and some silly-sounding songs at the end.

Glorious Food

Talk about the symbolic foods used at a Seder. Certain foods appear at virtually every Passover Seder. These foods -- which include matzo, a bitter-tasting vegetable, a roasted egg and a chunky mixture of apples, nuts, dates and cinnamon known as charoset -- symbolize different aspects of the Passover story. Over the course of the Seder, which can last for several hours, Jews drink four cups of wine or grape juice, eat a vegetable dipped in salt water and eat a sandwich combo of matzo and bitter herbs. Near the end of the Seder, the children conduct a lively search for the "afikomen," a piece of matzo set aside and hidden by a grown-up.

Encourage Questions

If you're conducting your own Seder, make the Seder experience fun and lively. Aim to ignite your child's sense of Jewish identity by encouraging him to ask questions. Your goal is to help him consider his own freedom and what it means to him and his family. Use the Haggadah as a guide, but feel free to retell the exodus story in simple language that your child understands. Use games, songs, jokes, riddles, play acting -- whatever it takes -- to keep your child awake and interested.

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