A friend was apologizing to me yesterday for not knowing more about Passover and Jewish customs. “Bah humbug,” I responded, “I probably know even less about your customs.” It’s true. Despite my living in a world where Christianity is the predominant religion, I know very little about the real meaning of Easter.
I have managed to familiarize myself with the important non-religious Easter customs, however. I know that children look forward to a grand Easter egg hunt sometime over the weekend. I also know that these same children would be disappointed if the eggs weren’t made of chocolate. I am glad that I did not know, as a child, that Christian children everywhere were hunting for chocolate Easter eggs and I wasn’t invited. This ignorance is due not only to my Jewish heritage but also to growing up in a predominantly Jewish community.
When I examined the true meaning of the Easter egg hunt more deeply, I realized Jewish children do engage in a similar ritual during the Passover Seder. Early in the Seder, a piece of matzah known as the afikomen is hidden for the children to find after the Seder meal. The excitement of finding the afikomen is not without its purpose: the goal is to keep the wee ones awake through the long celebration. That excitement used to keep me up for hours, I’m sure, although I can’t recall my childhood excitement as an adult.
In case you were wondering, afikomen means “dessert” because it is supposed to be eaten after the meal, when it is found. Matzah for dessert! Yummy! Thankfully, at our recent 30-minute Seder, we somehow forgot to end our meal by eating the afikomen. Rather than matzah for dessert, we insteaded suffered through large slices of Kosher-for-Passover lemon cake and flourless chocolate cake.
Compare our two traditions: Jewish children get to look for the afikomen while their Christian friends search for chocolate Easter eggs. Which custom would you prefer? Need I even ask? The searches may be similar but, in this case, the rewards are vastly different.
Usually, when I write about being Jewish, I try to convince you that our celebrations and rituals are more fun/better/more exciting than yours. I’m not trying to preach or proselytize; I’m just telling it like I see it. Being Jewish is great. One morning of gifts at Christmas vs. eight days of Hanukkah gifts? I rest my case.
But in this instance, I won’t even try to bring you on board (“board” is a Jewish pun, since matzah and cardboard taste remarkably similar, at least to those who have tasted cardboard). If I had a choice, I’d take the chocolate eggs over the matzah anytime. Matzah notwithstanding, I’m still happy to be Jewish, especially during Hanukkah.
If you’ll excuse me, I have to go and put my first-ever batch of hot cross buns in the oven. J. loves hot cross buns, and it is Good Friday. Of course I will not eat any of these leavened baked goods myself because Passover has not yet passed over. Also, I’ve decided to nix the crosses on them because, well, I’m Jewish. I’m substituting Xs instead. Do you think J. will still know what they are?