“My favorite part of Passover is the presents and the matzo treasure hunt,” said my five-year-old, the other day.
For the unfamiliar, during the seder, or ritual Passover meal, a piece of matzo (unleavened bread), is broken off and hidden. Traditionally, the younger family members are tasked with finding the piece of matzo (known as the afikomen), and may be rewarded with a gift. The size and amount of prizes given are at the discretion of the host family. Growing up, I remember getting a lot of books. I am pretty sure my kids are getting better stuff, but hey, that’s grandparents for you!
No matter our individual religions, most of us parents can lament the overblown nature of the holidays. I imagine many of my Christian friends are wondering how Easter got so consumerized, and how much money they will drop on baskets, eggs and other trinkets. I agree, it can all seem a bit much.
As I thought more about what my son said, I became less concerned about his love for “getting things,” and saw through to his bigger love for the holidays. Those gifts are what connect him to the deeper meaning of Passover. My son may focus on the more “fun” aspects of the seder today, but will, hopefully grow, to appreciate the other rich traditions of the holiday. Today, it is the afikomen and presents. Tomorrow, it might be the Passover songs.
I want my children to share my appreciation for Judaism. I want them to find the joy in the rituals and customs I hold dear. However, I never want religion to feel like a chore. I never want them to feel the reason they are participating in the Jewish faith is because “they have to.” It is why I don’t mind if my kids only spend a small amount of time in the sanctuary during shabbat or holiday services. I know even in the synagogue’s playroom, my kids are immersed in the community and faith. Would I like for them to sit quietly and participate in a full prayer service? Absolutely. Do I realistically expect that to happen any time soon? No. But, I know they will get there, and the foundation is set for them to be enthusiastic participants.
Religion should never be a burden or hindrance to joy. Religion should enrich our lives and fill our spirits. Too often, when I hear adults talk about their childhood experience with religion, the words “forced” and “had to” often came to mind. Fun was never something associated with practicing their faith.
If we desire our children to feel the same connection and happiness in faith as we do, we need to give them the freedom to embrace all aspects, even the more “superficial ones.” Even something as serious as the ten plagues can be made fun for kids. My father, for example, uses a bag of toys to represent each one. Yes, it is silly, and no, my kids don’t fully get the severity of each one, but they are learning and having fun.
So, to my Easter-observing friends, I say, let the kids enjoy their egg hunts and baskets. They will come to appreciate the deeper meaning of the holiday soon enough. And, to my fellow Passover parents, have fun making matzo pizzas and enjoy letting the kids search for the afikomen. It is all part of our big, beautiful tradition.