Close your eyes and think back to Pesach when you were a child. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’re 8, 9, or 10 years old, and sitting at your Pesach Seder. What’s the first memory that pops into your head? Is it a happy one, or a meaningful one? Does Pesach make you think of spending quality time with your family? Perhaps you recall that fun trip you went on over Chol Hamoed every year?
On the flip side, does a nervous and stressful memory come to mind? Remembering how nervous you felt when you had to recite the Ma Nishtana in front of everyone? Or, was your mother so frazzled that the kids knew to “stay away from Mom while she’s cleaning for Pesach?” Was it a time you enjoyed, or a time that was burdensome to everyone in your house?
For years, we’ve cleaned, shopped and cooked for Yom Tov, and as a society we have it down pat. We have it down to a system. One thing we’re still working on however is the fun side of the holiday. Yes, shocking, there is a fun side to the holiday! In fact, imbuing Pesach with a sense of fun and whimsy is just as important, if not more important that the elaborate menus and shopping lists. For one simple reason: When you closed your eyes just moments ago, that one memory which popped into your head is the whole purpose of Pesach. The entire Seder is structured so that the children will ask, engaging us so that we can pass down our heritage to our children.
The entire point of the Seder is “lihagid” – to tell. We want our children to perk up, see what’s going on and inquire. We have the unique opportunity to create not just an evening where we get through the Hagaddah as fast as possible so that we can get to the chicken soup, but to create a lasting impression, an indelible mark left on our kids for years to come.
So how do we do that? How do we create this impactful impression on our children (and our guests as well!) so that they walk away from the table feeling inspired and excited?
The Solution: Creating a Seder that is engaging, fun and exciting from beginning to end! This year, try scaling back the hours spent on the menu planning, and instead take time to plan the actual Seder evening, so that you have an organized and smooth Seder which leaves the participants with a positive, lasting impression. Below are a few ideas how to get started.
1. Create a Seder to Your Seder
Create an actual schedule for the evening. The goal is to help you create a streamlined and smooth evening so you are calmer and more prepared, and not just “going with the flow.” Planning each step means scheduling when “Ma Nishtana will be said” and when “Soup will be served.” Preparing this schedule will help you keep things flowing, tell your children when they need to be at the table, and prevents the “how much longer until we are eating?” question.
Creating a “Seder” also means going through the Hagaddah ahead of time and making notes when certain songs will be sung, games will be played, and when various Torah soundbites will be discussed. Print out your “Seder to the Seder” and you can give a few of these to various older family members to help keep things moving throughout the evening.
2. Creating an Atmosphere
The impression begins the minute people walk through the door. Have the table set, but give some thought as to how to kick it up a notch.
Centerpieces are an easy way to create atmosphere for your Seder. For example, if you search: “Yam Suf centerpiece” you will see lots of images of people who re-created the Crossing of the Sea on their dining room table. You can decorate your Seder tables with a “theme.” You can do a jeweled theme, symbolizing how the Jews left Mitzrayim with great wealth, putting fake jewelry as your tablescape. Include props like toy frogs or other “themed” items by each person’s plate. There is also a minhag to put lots of silver items on the table to demonstrate our freedom.
A good “prop” is the Mystery Box that can be used as a “Show and Tell” type item, and will also encourage discussions and questions. This box can be a centerpiece on your Pesach Seder table. (I give more detail to the Mystery Box below)
Another good way to have people take notice right away is for the host or one of your family members to come to the Seder in costume. Dressing up like Moshe Rabbeinu, or even a frog, is sure to get people to ask questions. If the Seder leader is dressed as Moshe Rabbeinu, the entire Hagaddah can be told in a first -person story form.
3. Games & Activities
On your “Seder to the Seder,” itemize where and when you want to have various games or activities throughout the evening. There are so many options for Seder games, you can search for ideas. Below are just a few of the many I have come across in my searches.
This idea originates from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, senior editor at Chabad.org who gives a class on how to create a “Wacky and Wonderful Seder.” There are many variations how to use these Mystery Boxes. You can fill the box with “plagues,” or have random items and people have to connect the items to the story of Pesach somehow. You can use the box items as props as you tell the story of Pesach. A toy brick (block) symbolizing the bricks that the Jews built in Egypt, or perhaps a toy snake who can tell the tale of being turned into a staff and back into a snake again.
Afikoman Treasure Hunts
Have everyone at your table split up in teams and hunt for the afikoman. This way everyone plays together. You can create clues that sends everyone hunting together as one group. There are many variation to this game as well since some have the minhag that children should not “steal” the afikoman.
Allow the kids to actually “leave Mitzrayim.” I’ve spoken to many families who do a version of this. At some point during Maggid they tie the Matzah on their backs/around their shoulders and lead the children around the house, out of Mitzrayim into the holy land! On the way, they do songs, cheers in praise of HaShem.
Charade Type Games
Your children can act out the 4 Son’s, different Makkos, or different people in the Hagaddah.
To really get your children and guests involved, spend some time coming up with various trivia questions to ask throughout the evening. Trivia questions can be done in differing formats. Answer in the form of a question, fill in the blank, true or false. Or flip the game, and have the children play “Stump the Daddy/ Rabbi / Leader.” If they can ask a hard enough question that the host doesn’t know the answer, they get a prize!
(For a more complete list, check out my new Pesach Seder Fun section in my 2017 edition of my book: Duby’s Pesach Lists)
4. Interactive Discussions
Keep Torah discussions to sound bites, short and sweet. Work to create more discussion rather than one person giving a speech.
To do this, come up with “questions” posed to the people at the table who need to contribute to the discussion as a whole.
Here are some ideas for Interactive Discussions:
- “modern Ma Nishtana”
- What are things that plague us today?
- In what way did we leave our own personal Egypt this year?
- What enslaves a person today in society?
- What does true freedom mean?
You can center your discussions around a certain theme each year. Matzah is referred to as bread of healing. Perhaps a theme can be about “healing this year.” How can we heal – physical health – emotional health – heal our relationships – heal our communities, and if you want to get political, how can we heal our country? (Although I don’t recommend getting too political at the table lest your guests pick up and leave!)
Traditions are my favorite part of any holiday, even Pesach! It can be as simple as having a special food for the Seder night, or that special “chometz” party on the night of Bedikas Chometz, or going on a specific trip over Chol Hamoed. It doesn’t have to be big and expensive, it’s about creating that tradition for your children to connect with Yom Tov. When they think of the Yom Tov, a positive and loving response will be elicited. The traditions are just a way to solidify it.
Some examples of traditions:
- A special menu item that the family feels it’s just not Pesach without! In our family, my mother in law makes a special blended vegetable soup, known as “Orange Soup”. It is just not Pesach unless we have that part of our menu.
- How your family sings the Ma Nishtana can be also be a tradition. Every year, my cousin will say the Ma Nishtana in Sign Language!
- Chol Hamoed trips – amusement parks, arcade centers, parks for a Pesach BBQ, or having family picture day. These are the things that your family will look forward to doing every year.
I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss my favorite – Pesach Notes. On Motzei Pesach every year, we sit down and write all the funny things that happened over the holiday, as well as predictions for the coming year. We pack them away with our Pesach boxes and look forward to reading them the following year when we unpack the Pesach boxes.
Regardless of the tradition, be it big or small, the goal is for it to become a treasured sacred activity that your family will come to cherish and look forward to all year long.
The ideas above are just a drop in the bucket of what one can do to help enhance your family’s Seder experience. Whatever you choose to do to create a more fun Pesach experience, remember that it should be enjoyable, and not to add extra stress. This will help our families enjoy Pesach and see it for the joyous Yom Tov it truly is. Wishing you a kosher, fun and freilichen Pesach!