The Afikomen: A Passover Tradition

“On a Passover seder, the adults hide the afikomen—a special piece of matzah [unleavened bread]—and the kids have to find it. (Usually, the adults hide it in really dumb places, like under a book.)  Our family, though, does this the other way around: the kids hide it, and the adults have to find it. I think this tradition comes from my Grandpa Ned’s side of the family.

“We always plan out our hiding places in advance, and try to make them good enough that the adults won’t be able to find the afikomen. Once, we opened up an old computer, put the afikomen inside, put the computer back together, and turned the computer on. My favorite hiding spot, however, was one I thought of last year: my friends and I opened up the smoke detector, took out all of the electrical equipment (so that the afikomen would fit in it), and put the afikomen there; meanwhile, we hid the electrical equipment somewhere else.

“When the adults were searching, one of them actually suggested looking inside the smoke detector. My dad, though, said that ‘there’s no way it could fit in there with all of the electrical equipment,’ because he didn’t think that we would take it out. Finally, when the adults gave up, I showed them the smoke detector electrical components to give them a hint. My dad had no idea what the equipment was, so I told him to hook it up to a battery. He said, ‘What is this? Am I going to get a secret coded message telling me where the afikomen is?’ When he connected a battery, the equipment made the sound of the smoke alarm, so he finally figured out where the afikomen was hidden.”

This tradition of hiding the afikomen has long been a part of the Jewish holiday of Passover, an eight-day festival that celebrates redemption from slavery in Egypt. The seder (a Hebrew word meaning ‘order’) is a ritual feast that families carry out in their homes at the start of Passover. Since a seder cannot end until the afikomen is eaten, hiding the afikomen has almost become a ritualized prank.

My informant feels that the afikomen tradition makes the holiday of Passover more meaningful and memorable for him personally, as it is one of the main reasons that he looks forward to Passover each year. He definitely intends to pass this tradition along to his children, stating that “I would definitely want them to come up with creative hiding places.”

The afikomen custom also reflects this holiday’s focus upon the younger generation. Seders customarily involve rituals in which children ask adults questions about the holiday; the Haggadah, a text that Jews read on Passover, even advises adults upon how to answer different sorts of questions from children. The afikomen ritual fits naturally into the seder, as it serves to keep children actively engaged with the holiday in the face of a long series of prayers.