Before I became observant, Passover was my favorite holiday. And then I became observant. And the festival of freedom felt more like a prison sentence. In an effort to make sure that everything was ready, I started the day after Purim — driving my family crazy. Every garment, every piece of furniture was moved and cleaned — in, out and around. The entire house was turned upside down, from top to bottom for a whole month.
And then, the rush to turn over the kitchen felt like an iron man competition – how many hours can we go without eating or resting or playing on the computer? I was driven.
Finally, the Seder would begin and I was still in full swing, going crazy, making sure everything was just right. I came to the table exhausted. I’d serve dinner and then fall asleep at the table.
For years after that, just hearing the word Passover would send me into a panic attack. And I thought to myself, “I don’t think that this is what freedom is supposed to feel like. Yes, freedom is not easily obtained, but its achievement isn’t supposed to destroy me and my family on the way there.”
The implications of experiencing Passover like this year after year isn’t just the lack of spirituality, or even a lack of joy, its far bigger than that. The premise of Passover is that it is the process of passing on the essence of what makes us Jewish to the next generation. The entire Seder is structured to do that — to engage the children and young adults, to bring them into the narrative, and help them make it their own. But what we are really doing instead is bringing them into a narrative of dread and misery that makes them want to run as far away from what we’ve “got” as they can. And of course on top of that, we live with the guilt of knowing we’ve done this and the feeling of personal failure.
And every year we promise ourselves that this year will be different. We think that we are going to start earlier this year, plan better, work smarter. But then, we are struck with the fear that it’s going to be the same, and perfection paralysis takes hold. A feeling of overwhelm begins to strangle us and as we put off what we really don’t want to deal with until the very last moment, finding that we are in the same situation yet again.
So how can we make sure that things will be different this year? How can we enter the holiday of Pesach without pushing everyone away in the process? How can we — and our kids — go into the Seder rested and excited about it? Here are 5 tips that aren’t guaranteed to make Passover your favorite holiday, but they are sure to help.
The first step, before the practical tips, is to get your head around why you are doing what you are doing. This is about being a part of a people, about a unique national relationship with G-d. It is not about anyone else or what anyone else expects. Once you can get yourself to that place, then you are ready to begin.
- Pesach cleaning should be counted in the number of hours it takes, not the number of days or weeks.
Yes, we’ve all heard it, but it bears repeating — dirt is not chametz (leavening). I cannot believe how many Facebook statuses I’ve read about windows being cleaned and closets being organized — that’s not Pesach preparations — that’s spring cleaning. You should be scheduling that for the week after Passover. Or for the middle of the summer. Perhaps you’re thinking, “if I don’t do it now, it will never get done.” If that’s the case, we need to talk about how to do what needs to be done. You need to schedule it. Just. Not. Now.
Don’t know any other way? Check out Ruchi Koval’s excellent post, “How to Clean for Passover in One Day.”
- You are not the only one leaving Egypt.
The exodus from Egypt was not about individuals, it was about the nation, and about families and communities. That’s the whole thing about sharing a lamb with others. Everyone had to work together to make it happen. The same is true now. Enlist the help of your entire family. If you do not yet have children or no longer have children at home, then you should have no problem as the likelihood of chametz being anywhere other than the kitchen and dining room is slim.
Unless you have a toddler. If you have a toddler, just give up. No, really — if you have a toddler, you will probably need some paid help. Unless its financially impossible — do it; hire help. Just do it. But no matter what — don’t do it alone.
- Schedule the day Passover begins to include a nap.
That’s right. A nap. You are thinking, “a nap? We don’t have time for a nap!” Oh yes you do, and you must. You must schedule a nap for everyone in the house (at 1:00, everything in the house shuts down for 2 hours. Period. End of subject). That guarantees that people aren’t over tired (including you and hubby) going into the Seder, that everyone will have a higher energy level, and the whole experience will be eminently more enjoyable.
- And a Meal.
Yes. Your scheduled nap time must be followed by a meal. Once the kitchen is turned over for Passover, make a casserole that can be frozen and stick it in the freezer. While you are napping, it goes into the oven and after nap time, everyone eats. If you prefer, it could be a soup or stew put in a crock pot in the morning, choose what works for you, just make sure you do. This way, no one goes into the Seder grumpy from hunger or low blood sugar.
- And finally…. Have a checklist.
Right now, sit down and write down everything that must be done (maybe a separate list of things you’d like to see get done but aren’t required) and not only write down who is responsible for making sure it gets done, but also when it needs to be done by. This is part of creating a plan, which is how we can avoid overwhelm in any area of our lives. If you know what is supposed to get done and what success actually looks like, you can create a plan on how to do it and then just take it one step at a time. After all, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time….
Of course there are loads of other tips on how to get through Passover with your sanity intact, but if you put these 5 tips into place, you will have a Passover that is far less stressful and full of joy. Chag Kasher v’sameach!