Easter and Passover Memories: You can have both, right?

seder plateEach year when Spring arrives and pokes its head through the snow here in Chicago (not always successfully), I think back to the Spring holidays I spent as a child in New York. While I grew up celebrating Easter, I lived in a Jewish community in the Borscht Belt of upstate New York. This meant I usually had the first days of Passover off from school. I also learned about Passover in school and from friends and I often was a guest at several Seder meals.
Even then as a teenager, I was a sponge: I wanted to learn everything there was about Passover, how the holiday came about, why certain foods were served, and all the other traditions. For me, and for many, this is what makes a holiday meaningful: knowing the traditions, telling stories of how our ancestors kept the traditions, and passing it on to the next generation.

My Passover Traditions
Currently, I don’t celebrate Passover on my own nor does my family here in Chicago, but if I were to receive an invite to a Seder meal (hint, hint), I’d be there in a New York minute. I’ve always enjoyed the foods and the traditions of Passover.
Also, perhaps because I was not subjected to the prohibition of leavened goods, I can appreciate a good matzo. Whenever Spring arrives, and I see the boxes of matzo stacked up at the grocery store, I’ve been known to pick up a box or two. With a little butter or cream cheese in the morning and a cup of tea, I’m in heaven!

My Easter Traditions – Old and New
As a child, Easter meant three things: a new Spring outfit, going to church, and an Easter basket filled with candy! As I got older, I developed a better appreciation for the concept of Easter – the message of renewal and resurrection – and attended Easter Vigil each year. This meant a three or four hour church service which started outdoors in the dark and ended with the lighting of candles in the church sanctuary at midnight.
Currently, I celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter which for 2014 is the same date as Western Christian Easter: April 20, 2014. Every four years or so, the Easter dates are the same, but they can be separated by as much as five weeks since the Orthodox church (this is partially because the Greek Orthodox Church remained on the Julian Calendar while others moved to the Gregorian Calendar).
Now Easter for me means a large meal of Greek food with my family and the dishes include roast lamb, Greek potatoes as well as those fabulous Greek pastries. But the meal can’t start without the Greek tradition of tsougrisma – a game played with hard boiled eggs that are dyed red.

Sharing and Preserving Multi-Cultural Memories
It isn’t always easy for most of us to preserve memories of different religious and cultural holidays. Why? Well it all has to do with what we celebrated while we were growing up. If you celebrated Passover each year, I’m sure you’re not as familiar with some of the Easter traditions and vice versa. With today’s blended families that often mix different cultures, races and religions, it can be a challenge to make sure that all memories are properly preserved.

Here are some ideas that you can put to use for any holidays during the year:
· Designate a “holiday keeper” in the family. If your family celebrates several different holidays, some which can overlap such as Easter and Passover, appoint someone to be the “keeper” of that holiday. This means they know the traditions and can explain them to others in the family. If possible, have them write down each tradition – perhaps one per page – and add photos too.
· Learn more about a holiday. If you feel there is a “blind spot” when it comes to knowledge about a holiday, then crack open a book or take to the Internet to find out more. Consider adding new traditions to an existing holiday that your family celebrates.
· Interview family members. Often, our sense of holiday traditions are in our memories and not written down. Either before a specific holiday or perhaps before or after the holiday meal, interview family members using Saving Memories Forever. Find out how they celebrated the holiday as a child and how the traditions have changed over time.

© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEnteeThomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.


Passover Memories

[Editor’s Note: The holidays aren’t upon us right now, so why would we ask a guest to blog about a holiday? Because many of you are going to be seeing family over the summer. This is a great time to ask relatives about your holiday traditions and those of your ancestors. Thanks to genealogist and author Jennifer Alford of Jenealogy and The In-Depth Genealogist for sharing about her family’s Passover traditions.] 


How do you mark the holidays that are important in your family?  Growing up I found that we did things a little different than most.  My mom is Jewish and my dad’s side is Catholic.  I grew up with both sets of holidays and connected to them in a way that was more historical than religious.  Sitting at the dinner table celebrating Passover has become one of those enduring memories that I want to pass on to my own future children.

Over the years, the Passover Seder has had an increasing meaning for me.  Part of that is due to the fact that I do not get home to spend time with my family as much as I would like.  Since starting my genealogy research I have an increased appreciation for how the Jewish people have survived and held onto their beliefs.  I have a lot of respect for those with strong beliefs- whatever they may be.  I always marked the time of year by the television showing of “The Ten Commandments” and the story of the Jews escaping Egypt.  There is nothing like Charlton Heston, as Moses, declaring, “Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel: Let my people go.”  My friends celebrated Easter while many Jews were planning their Passover Seder.



Anyway, for those not familiar with Passover (or Pesach) I thought I’d share some of the things that my family and I do when we celebrate.  I can’t speak for all Jews (and wouldn’t want to!), but I really love the time we have together as a family.  A few years ago I found some hilarious finger puppets to use in the telling of the story of Passover.  Check them out in the pictures below.

Mom always makes a great spread with all the representative foods used during the night.  She has spent a lot of time putting together a special series of readings from several different Haggadahs.  We all take turns reading from the books and say the blessings for the wine with Mom’s guidance.  She grew up attending the synagogue regularly and was active in the youth activities there.  Though I started off going to a Hebrew Day School; I did not stick with it and lost a lot of what I had learned then.


During the dinner we talk about the 2011Passover01symbolism of the various foods on the Seder plate.  Greens (Karpas) represent the initial flourishing of the Jews in Egypt.  The salt water represents the tears shed by the Jews.  Haroset is a mix of fruit, nuts, and wine and represents the mortar used to build the pyramid.  Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish is used) allow us to taste the bitterness of slavery.  The lamb shank bone represents the sacrifice of a lamb made at the Temple for a special Passover offering.  The egg shows the circle of life.

2011Passover04The youngest child in our family, Kait, asks the four questions and notes what is different about the night’s celebration.

  1. On all other nights we eat bread or matzo, while on this night we eat only matzo.
  2. On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables and herbs, but on this night we have to eat bitter herbs.
  3. On all other nights we don’t dip our vegetables in salt water, but on this night we dip them twice.
  4. On all other nights we eat while sitting upright, but on this night we eat reclining.


There is always an extra place setting for Elijah and the door is kept open in case he should appear.  (Yes, that’s right, the Jews are still waiting for their Messiah.)

As we tell the story of the Exodus we talk about the ten plagues that occurred.  The ten plagues brought on Egypt were:jennysad

  1. Water to Blood;
  2. Frogs;
  3. Gnats or Lice;
  4. Livestock Diseased/ Cattle Plague;
  5. Flies;
  6. Boils;
  7. Thunder and Hail;
  8. Locusts;
  9. Darkness;
  10. and Death of the Firstborn.


By the time we’ve made it through all the stories, reflections, and blessings we are usually so full that we hardly make a dent on the delicious meal that Mom has made.  On the bright side, the leftovers are great!  When I think back to the generations before me I wonder what their Passover Seder’s were like?  I guess I know what I’ll have to ask Mom about next time I’m home!


Author Bio:

Jennifer Alford is a freelance writer, artist, and professional genealogist specializing in research in Jewish genealogy and the Midwest states.  As the owner of Jenealogy she creates engaging family history treasures to enhance the bond between generations.  The love of photography, storytelling, and history combine in her blog and unique products.  Jennifer Alford is Publisher of Going In-Depth, The In-Depth Genealogist’s monthly digital magazine.  She is also author of IDG’s Monthly column, Jewish Genealogy.



Serve Up Family Stories This Thanksgiving

Family Stories and Thanksgiving

[Editor’s note: Saving Memories Forever blogger Thomas MacEntee discusses ways in which you can get family members involved in sharing and preserving family stories at Thanksgiving.]

Another holiday, another big meal, and the same old family stories, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way this Thanksgiving. If your family seems to do the same thing year-after-year on Turkey Day, why not spice things up a bit and add some variety to the holiday and your meal time?

Family Stories and Thanksgiving – A Great Pairing

Like turkey and gravy or pumpkin pie and whipped cream, many families believe that Thanksgiving and family stores just “go together.” It is the perfect time to share stories that are meaningful and important to family history. In fact, in a recent Thanksgiving Across America Survey over at ThanksgivingTips.com, approximately 40% of Americans said that they share family stories as a Thanksgiving Day activity. That makes it the 2nd most popular Thanksgiving Day activity (of course, watching football on television was #1!).

Family Stories – Just Do It

Have you ever wondered how a Thanksgiving or other holiday tradition got started in your family? Basically someone just came up with the idea and simply did it. Like using a favorite bowl for serving stuffing, you can create a new tradition this year of telling family stories at the dinner table or at any time when family gathers. Here are some ideas to get you started:

50 Questions for Family History Interivews
Collecting Family Stories
Guide to Interviewing Family Members
Thanksgiving Opportunities for Sharing Family History

Set a Place for Family Stories

Make room for family stories at the Thanksgiving table and at every holiday and family gathering. Sharing memories, preserving stories and passing them on to the next generation is something you can serve anytime and anywhere with Saving Memories Forever. And the best part? Once you’ve captured those stories, you’ll always have leftovers to share.