A holiday for children that involves a three-hour dinner, served only after a long history lesson? Yep. That’s Passover—a delicious meal, full of meaning and history, but a long one.
That said, Passover has a lot going for it: a Four Questions Show that throws kids into the limelight, a lot of attention from relatives, and an all-out hunt for the afikomen, that includes treasure for the winner. The key to a successful holiday lies in keeping kids involved throughout the night.
Gefilte fish may not be high up on the list of kid-friendly foods, but it can be a fun place to start. Before the Seder begins, bring the children into the kitchen. Let them decorate the fish with carrots, cucumber, and parsley to look like eyes, noses and fins. Once the school of fish is complete, ask your kids to help you shape the matzo balls, hard-boil the eggs, or chop apples for the charoset.
When it’s time for the meal itself, get crafty. Good things may come to those who wait, but a multi-hour buildup to dinner is a long time for anyone, especially kids. Let them release some creative energy while making a Passover-themed project. They can create their own Seder plates in the midst of the meal. Have each child take a sturdy paper plate, cut out construction paper symbols (egg, shank bone, carpas, bitter herbs, charoset) and glue them on. They can decorate any way they wish.
Make the readings at the Seder more fun by using kid-friendly haggadahs. No Starch Press, based in San Francisco, makes a Dr. Seuss-style version for kids called Uncle Eli’s Haggadah, which can be purchased from Amazon or Borders. They’ll still get the story, but in a fun, irreverent way that will keep them entertained until soup time.
Don’t let Aunt Rita fall asleep in her Matzo Ball soup—give her something to do with the kids. Stock the table with finger puppets or props for all of the ten plagues. There’s lots of wacky gear to be had at www.jewishstore.com or www.oytoys.com -- from Four Question puppets to Passover coloring books.
As great as the toys may be, you don’t need to buy anything at all to get your party started. It’s family traditions that make Passover so special. Have Uncle Steve dress up like Moses and play his guitar to the tune of “Dayenu.” Or try playing the Egg Game at the table. Here’s how it works: each person takes a hard-boiled egg and taps their neighbor’s egg. If your egg breaks, you’re out of the game. But anyone who still has an unbroken egg taps against the next person’s egg, and so on, until only one unbroken egg remains.
And then, let the hunt begin! The purpose of Passover may be to retell the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, but most kids will be far more interested in the adventure at hand—finding the hidden afikomen matzo before their sister or cousin can find it. And that’s okay. Because the real story of Passover is about family. It’s about a clan of relatives sticking together through extremely tough times. And if a little treasure helps to build those bonds for the next generation, so be it.