One of the great things about Passover as a holiday is its ability to be easily personalized to the needs of just about any family...and any level of religious observance. Having spent a good part of my adult life away from my family (first for college and later working in Manhattan), I've been to just about every type of seder you can imagine. There was the traditional seder guided by a Haggadah so long I feared we would miss class the following week; the less formal "DIY" seder where people around me would hold their own conversations and randomly leave the table to refresh their wine glasses or grab a snack; and the more familiar hybrid of my own family... led by my father or uncle, guided by a 20-year old Haggadah we had snagged from my temple and punctuated with the lighthearted jokes and whispers of my cousins.
Whether short and simple or long and complex, the seder is always guided by the Haggadah. And for those about to host their first seder, finding the right Haggadah can be a daunting task. Here are some of my best tips for creating your own memorable Haggadah...
1. Be creative.
Don't be afraid to create your own traditions. With the addition of two newborns within a few months of each other, my family found themselves having to rethink our entire seder. My Dad eventually found a compromise by doing a bit of Internet research and printing out explanations for everything on the seder plate. Each of us got a sheet with a different explanation, which we then read aloud. Not only did we learn quite a few new things, we were engaged in the seder in a whole new way by focusing on the specific objects and what they meant. Another friend of mine found herself in the midst of live table theater when her mother threw out the playbook and enacted the plagues (think rubber bugs and cotton ball-boils) to the delight of her grandchildren.
2. Hit the Internet.
As you can see from this site alone, there is a plethora of information out there to guide and help novices. A computer plus some simple search terms can lead you to innumerable web sites that can fill in the blanks and even suggest songs, games and creative ideas for including the entire range of guests. You can also easily find Passover-themed clip art (much of it for free) to add a little flair and make it more pleasing (and understandable) for your younger guests.
3. Consider your audience.
If you're looking to create a Haggadah to last for years, consider the anticipated changes in the size of your family (or guest list); their religious convictions; their relative attention span and, of course, their general ability to become an unruly mob. Be sure to respect the traditions of older generations and the true meaning of the holiday while taking into account the wants and needs of younger participants. (Hint: songs can go a long way in uniting family members.)
4. Make it personal.
One of the most special family traditions I've encountered came courtesy of a family friend. As a teenager, her niece began keeping a running list of all of their Passover guests in the back of one of their Haggadahs. The list now spans almost 20 years and allows the family to not only add husbands, wives and babies who join the family, but look back at the family members who are no longer with them.
5. Keep it simple.
If the idea of creating your own Haggadah still gives you pause, there's no shame in borrowing from others. Ask friends and family members (or even your temple) if they have one they would like to share or buy or download one online (try Moderntribe.com).
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