USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘passover’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Non-Traditional Passover Traditions

The source describes how his family’s Passover traditions are non-traditional:

Passover is really fun at my mom’s house. And I didn’t realize how unorthodox it was until one year we went over to my aunt’s place for Passover and she’s a lot more religious. She was really strict and me and my sister got in an argument with her.  

What do you do for Passover that’s unorthodox?

Well we don’t read an actual Haggadah [the Haggadah is a Jewish which sets forth the order of the Passover Seder], we read a children’s picture book.

And the adults usually don’t drink wine or they only have one glass. But my favorite part is that we play a game where you throw mashed potatoes at the front door with a spoon. It’s based on marking the doors of the Israelites with blood. But our version is a lot more fun and more P.G. 

Is the Seder kosher?

Yes, we make sure the Seder is kosher, but my family doesn’t keep kosher most of the time. Only on holidays.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Leaving a Place for Elijah

The source is an Israeli Microsoft employee describing a prank he pulled on his children on Passover.

Well, as you may know for Passover Seder, we set an extra place at the table for the Profit Elijah. The tradition normally is that we pour a cup of wine for the profit and the husband of the household open the door for him. Of course, the seat remains empty and the wine full. And many parents know you can have some fun with young children, who of course are watching the Elijah’s Cup intently, by knocking the table when they’re not looking so that some of the wine spills out and it appear that the cup is drunk. When they’re older maybe they don’t fall for this.

Anyway, last year we had the idea to take that one step further and I asked my friend from work Farhan to help me with a prank. He’s Zoroastrian so he’s not doing anything that night. So this Seder we set a place for Elijah like normal; we pour the wine like normal. My children are nine and thirteen so they don’t take the whole thing too seriously anymore; they know the trick of knocking the table and spilling the wine; you know, they’re too wise to fall for that anymore.

Well this year we start eating and suddenly a bearded olive-skinned man in a tunic walks in the front door, comes to Elijah’s place, drinks the wine, and walks out again without saying anything. My kids drop to the floor and they say, “who was that, Dad.”

And I say very casually, “That’s Eliyahu [Elijah].”

To this day I won’t tell them that it was really my friend Farhan.


There’s No Seder Like our Seder

Informant is grandmother, currently living in Florida having lived most of her life in New Jersey. The following is printed on a series of old, twice-photocopied documents which she stores in a closet in a large bin. These are a familiar sight for the family during Passover, in which the entirety of the song is sung together before beginning with the dinner service.


There’s No Seder Like our Seder

(sung to the tune of “There’s no Business like Show business”)

There’s no seder like our seder,

There’s no seder I know.

Everything about it is Halachic

nothing that the Torah won’t allow.

Listen how we read the whole Haggadah

It’s all in Hebrew

‘Cause we know how.

There’s no Seder like our seder,

We tell a tale that is swell:

Moses took the people out into the heat

They baked the matzoh

While on their feet

Now isn’t that a story

That just can’t be beat?

Let’s go on with the show!


Of course this song is not traditional jewish canon, as it’s inspired by the song “There’s no Business like Show business.” Somewhere down the line, at a time she does not remember, these papers were copied and it was decided to sing it before opening the Hagaddah (Passover prayerbook read at dinner). I think this song, to her, is a fun family activity which gets all ages singing together and warmed up for the night.


Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

Informant is grandmother, currently living in Florida having lived most of her life in New Jersey. The following is a family recipe for Matzo Ball Soup which is a traditionally jewish dish served at Passover.


Ingredients (taken down from a handwritten note in the recipe book):

4 large eggs

•¼ cup “schmaltz” rendered chicken fat or coconut oil

•¼ cup chicken stock

•1 cup matzo meal

•¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

•1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

•2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

•1 teaspoon Allspice


Directions (spoken to me in the kitchen as she prepares to make the soup):

“In a big bowl, put the eggs, schmaltz, chicken stock, matzo, nutmeg, ginger and parsley. Put in 1 teaspoon salt and Allspice. Mix a little with a spoon, and cover. And refrigerate until chilled. I do it overnight.”

“Put the matzo balls in a pan like this (she holds up a medium sized, deep pan) with salted water and boil. With wet hands— they have to be wet— take some of the mix and mold it into the size of a golfball. Put them in boiling water and leave it for about 40 minutes. Then you put them in the soup, that’s it!”

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover Dinner

Main Piece: Passover Dinner


I personally am not Jewish, but I had the opportunity to attend a Passover dinner at my friend Sam’s house this year with their family. We ate a lot of different foods traditionally associated with Passover. There was brisket, matzo ball soup, Gefilte fish, and a sweet matzo kugel. The matzo kugel was something new to me, so I asked about it specifically.

My friends mother told me that Kugel is a Yiddish term stemming from Germany. German Jews would mix flour, water, and apples, that created a sweet matzo-like dessert. This is a dish traditionally served in the family as a savory dessert that has a historical context to it. It consisted of Granny-Smith apples, cinnamon, sugar, butter, and matzo.




My friend told me this is a dish that has been in his family for many generations, being passed down to his mother by her mother, and to her by her mother, and so on. Matzo itself is a traditional dish in the Jewish tradition. It stems from the Jewish diaspora from Egypt, when all they had was flour and water (no yeast), which resulted in the matzo bread being flat, since it could not rise.

They liked this recipe because not only is it delicious, but it has cultural significance and is more of a delicacy made for special occasions. It isn’t just prepared for your everyday meal, and that gives you a way to make a meal special in that sense.




Passover is a celebration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt. It commemorates the Exodus, and lasts for seven or eight days depending on the specific religion, during the Hebrew month of Nisan. Matzo is a big part of the meal, as it is derived from the event that is being celebrated during this holiday. This is why a majority of the dishes consist of matzo, and it has a certain level of historical context to being so prominent in the celebration.

Traditionally throughout the week of Passover, Jews are not supposed to consume yeast, and only matzo, to pay homage to the religion and its history. Because this is such an important holiday in the tradition, matzo kugel is prepared for this special occasion.


My thoughts:


Personally I am not a fan of fruity desserts, I think desserts should be something along the lines of ice cream or cake. I still tried it out of respect and although it was not my favorite, I could tell it was a delicacy in my friends household, as everyone got excited once it became time for dessert.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover Game Night

Main Piece: “I think there’s a couple of things my family does on Passover. One thing my dad does every year on one of the nights… because we do a whole seder the first and second night… we hold a game night. And that includes a different game every year. In the past, we’ve done Jeopardy night or… um… the amazing race Passover edition… we have even done American Idol Passover edition. And I think that gives a fun little way for the younger kids at seder to want to come…um…and something I’ve alwyas enjoyed.”

Background: The informant says Passover game nights have been a tradition her whole life. She says her father is quite creative and puts a lot of time into these games. The informant appreciates these games because she says it’s a good way to learn about the story of Passover without it being “too boring.” Trivia, clues, and rewards are used as incentive to make the seder interesting and enjoyable. A “seder” is a Jewish ritual of the telling and celebration of the liberation of the Isrealites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Performance Context: I sat at my desk while the informant sat across from me in a chair.

My Thoughts: The informant’s father invests a lot of effort into this game night. His creativity unites cultures and traditions; U.S. games like Jeapoardy, American Idol, and the Amazing Race are combined with Jewish rituals, retelling stories of ancient Egypt and Israel on the holiday of Passover. The game night tradition involves the entire family, which according to the informant, brings together over 50 members of the family. Judaism, like other religions, values tradition. However, this Passover game night adapts tradition to a modern context. I expect the legacy of this game night will live on since the informant notes how enjoyable the seders become when the whole family is involved in the game.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover: Ashkenazi and Sephardic Foodways

Main Piece:  “In terms of food… um… my mom is Ashkenazi and my dad is Sephardic so I think my home is one of those rare homes that you see foods like rice and beans served, besides brisket…we have both brisket and lamb…which I don’t think anyone does that…’cause we cater to both sides of the family. There’s two dishes in particular that I think I’ve never heard of outside of my family. One of them is called Mina…and it’s a spinach matzoh dish… not entirely sure….but it’s amazing. And then the other one is Singato and that’s like mushrooms and meat and all sorts of good stuff…I don’t know what’s in it….but it’s Sephardic.”

Background: The informant notes that it is particularly interesting that her Ashkenazi mother and Sephardic father jointly contribute to the Passover meal because they are two different global denominations of Judaism. She remembers that when she was younger, her family wouldn’t serve the traditional Sephardic dishes because her older Ashkenazi relatives weren’t as accepting of these dishes as “traditional.” The informant prefers the Sephardic food served at dinner because there are more variations in the dish (vegetables, meat, grains, etc.) The informant’s family hosts over 50 people for dinner each year. She notes that it can be offensive to the hosts when a guest doesn’t eat a dish that is served.

Performance Context: I sat at my desk while the informant sat across from me in a chair.

My Thoughts: The unification of two branches of Judaism, Sephardic and Ashkenazi, is noteworthy because these affiliations are infamous for not collaborating on religious methods concerning diet, prayer, ritual, and more. Ashkenazi Jews are a European denomination especially prevalent in Poland, Russia, France, while Sephardic Jews have majority of their communities in Spain, Portugal, and Turkey. Folk foodways are an interesting way to unify multiple globalized traditions. The informant noted that her older relatives were not so welcoming of this collaboration because it wasn’t as “traditional.” A widely accepted sentiment, “non-traditonal” is usually understood as imposing on an individual’s personal tradition. Of course a tradition is unique to the individual, so Sephardic foodways and Ashkenazi foodways are each traditional, but bringing together both foodways at one time became a new tradition which required adjustment.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Passover Tradition: A Modern Haggadah

Main Piece: “So my dad makes these…um…books with all the different prayers that you… um… do on Passover and it has all that information but it also has little fun snippits in it including a festive front cover with my family’s pictures having to do with the biblical story in some way. And they often feature my horse and in the past, my dog, with matzoh in their mouths. So that’s always fun. And it usually includes some sort of news information on what’s happening in the world today.”

Background: The informant says these books have been used as long as she can remember (at least 21 years). She says her father likes making people laugh and likes to personalize the books with photos of their animals because he wants Passover to be enjoyable. According to the informant, her father also likes to share his political viewpoints concerning current events to inspire conversation during dinner. Each member of the table looks through the book at the seder. Her father uses the book, in Hebrew referred to as “haggadah,” in a traditional but contemporary way. It is read back to front, like the Torah. The informant also notes that her father keeps the book a surprise until the night of the dinner.

Performance Context: I sat at my desk while the informant sat across from me in a chair.

My Thoughts: The informant’s father places value on celebrating the holiday, rather than simply reciting the Hebrew prayers and practicing the rituals. Instead, he makes the books relevant, surprising, and humorous in a modern context. Hosting a Passover dinner for many people of many backgrounds is difficult, but engaging the entire table is even more of a challenge. The informant’s celebration of Passover is unique to her family. It has been tradition for over 21 years and incorporates a sense of enjoyment and festivity. The informant’s father has adapted the original haggadah to fit a contemporary context, considering current events, humor, and the guests’ engagement. The personalization of the books is similar to a copyright. There is a sense of ownership in this creative work, shared only with the guests at the Passover dinner.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Elijah’s Cup

“I don’t even know how this started but ok so like over Passover which is like the Jewish holiday commemorating the Exodus out of Egypt, we have a Seder dinner to retell the story of what happened. Part of it is…something that my family does is what we call “Elijah’s cup,” which is essentially just leaving a full cup of wine at the table, and I can’t really remember but at either the end or the middle of dinner, you’re supposed to open the front door and welcome Elijah in to drink the cup. It’s something about welcoming in those who don’t have a dinner or like the less fortunate, but I’m not really sure to be honest. My family does it every year.”

Background: This was a very interesting story for me to hear because I know the story of Passover from the Catholic viewpoint but have never really understood the specific Jewish traditions of Passover, and this was one example with which I was not familiar at all. This is an interesting symbolic touch added to the dinner, which, in my opinion, provides structure to the dinner and increases the level of reverence associated with the dinner if a real object or real food is dedicated to a holy person. I can relate to this because during Catholic mass the most important part is when the bread and wine are supposed to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and this tradition creates more respect for the ceremony when we dedicate such an intense belief to a weekly ritual, a characteristic I see reflected in this tradition of Elijah’s Cup. This interview was conducted in person as the informant lives down the hall from me. This story is important to the informant because she conducts this part of the ritual every year at Passover.


Brisket and Kugel – “although they’re not as good as Marcia’s”

The informant is a 95-year old man who grew up in Davenport, right near downtown with his parents and two brothers. His father came over from Russia and owned a grocery store in Davenport. He is a father, grandfather, worked in advertising for 60 years, and loves baseball.


Interviewer: “Do you remember anything your mom used to cook?”

Informant: “Yes, she made brisket. It was so good.”

Interviewer: “Did she make it from a recipe?”

Informant: “No, she made it herself. And it was something her mom had taught her. It was so good, nobody could match it. She gave the recipe to Nancy way back when. She also made the keegal or kugel, whichever you call it, she made that on her own recipe.

Interviewer: “Is that the one Aunt Nancy uses at Seder?”

Informant: “Nancy has it, yes. She makes that one. Although it’s not quite as good as Marcia’s was.”


As with my previous collection of food-related folklore, I see a strong emotional connection to the discussion of food. This could be because the food talked about is usually something cooked by an immediate family member at some special occasion or holiday when family is gathered. So it isn’t so much the food alone that makes the informant emotional, but the memories tied up with the food. When a recipe has been passed down from family member to family member it only strengthens and nuances the connection to a food.