Ah, the Passover seder. A family time! So much anticipation… such a big event… so rich with tradition… so…boring?
It sure can be. With a long meal that takes forever to actually start, a virtual prayer book that you have to get through, and potentially adults and children of all ages who need to be engaged, entertained, and, let’s face it, fed, it’s no wonder the seder can sometimes seem to be more of a burden than a pleasure. But it doesn’t have to be; in fact it shouldn’t. It just takes a bit of thought and planning.
First of all, whether or not you are making the whole thing, sharing the efforts with others, or simply going as a guest, you would do well to plan – or delegate the planning - especially if you’ll have your children with you. By the way, it doesn’t make much of a difference if your child is 4 or 40…
To plan the seder you have to take a good look at who’s going to be there. Now, it might be too late for this, but you can file this thought away for next year: not every configuration of people works. Like if your family consists of rambunctious little kids and you join your friends who have a bunch of surly teenagers, you just might have a hard time making everyone happy.
Level of observance is a big one too. A traditional conservadox family might not necessarily be the best match to have seder with a very religious, orthodox family. That’s not to say it couldn’t work; it’s all about expectations and planning.
Here are a few things we have done over the years, or adopted as a regular tradition, that has kept our children happy over a span of many years of Pesach seders and hopefully many more to come:
- Toys at the table – You heard me. Our table is always set with special props that help the children ‘experience’ the Exodus for themselves. Such as the ten plagues (nowadays you can go into any Judaica store around Pesach and buy a ‘ten-plague kit’). Or little baby Moshe in a basket. These items can be used for little impromptu tossing (ping-pong balls make great ‘barad’ or hail and are Oh-so-fun to throw around the room!) or for the kids to simply play with to keep them happy and interested.
- Little treats – I grew up with strict seder rules: No eating until we get to the part with the matzah. That’s all fine and dandy for those who are old enough to wait. But for little ones, or for those who have a hard time following rules… (ahem… me…) treats serve many purposes. Whether it’s a bag of chocolate chips doled out one at a time for correct answers to questions or participating in a discussion, or larger candies or other treats, believe me, these little candies are well worth having. In fact even for those who are not going to eat them until later, collecting them and trying to amass the biggest pile is incentive as well. So little candies: have them at your seder.
- Games – There’s no need for me to enumerate the endless number of possible games, trivia quizzes and the like that you can do at the seder. In fact, go ahead and google “seder activities” and you will get a nearly endless supply of results. What I will tell you is they WORK. I always have a number of games up my sleeve to appeal to the many aged people at my seder and I pull them out whenever there is a lull, or people start to lose focus. Just to throw out a few ideas, charades, twenty-questions and trivia are easy go-to options… and they are better if you bother to look them up and print out questions and answers in advance!
- Re-enactments – Have your children make a play! Whether you go all out like my sister has done, hanging blue tablecloths on the walls with colorful fish for the Splitting of the Red Sea, or like my friends who make pyramids and Phaarohs and totally decorate, or allow the children to create something more spontaneous during the seder, these activities engage the children and allow them to really internalize the story about which they are celebrating.
- Let everyone participate! – I remember the first seder I went to where participants took turns reading the Haggadah aloud, and read it in their choice of Hebrew or English. When you get to a song, sing it! If people of different backgrounds are in attendance, take turns singing the songs each grew up with. What a difference it makes when everyone feels a part of the seder!
- One seder beats two… - Last but not least, there’s nothing like Pesach in Israel where you put all of your energies into one awesome night… Try it someday J