A Universalist’s Celebration of Passover

COMMENTARY | Some might find it odd that I’m a Passover celebrant considering I’m not Jewish. As a Celtic Universalist Pagan, I believe in a higher power and appreciate religious celebrations of many faiths.

Since I did not grow up in a Jewish home, Passover isn’t something I celebrated during childhood. Over the years, Jewish friends have welcomed me into their homes during Passover and other Jewish holidays. This tradition of openness and inclusion without evangelism has made Passover something for me to look forward to whenever I receive such an invitation.

This year, I was invited to attend a Passover Seder with my husband (who is Christian). I learned a lot and enjoyed a delicious meal and plan to prepare and serve Passover foods in future years-because of what the holiday represents, and also because the meal is so delicious.

The Food

My family celebrates the major Christian holidays, so I’m accustomed to having savory entrees and tasty treats for dessert. Food and how people consume it says a lot about a culture or religious community. I can’t help but adore the sense of camaraderie come St. Patrick’s Day. I’m Irish-American year round, but I enjoy the opportunity to share my culture and learn more about it on my favorite holiday of the year; food and drink is a major part of that.

Since I don’t eat pork, I usually feel comfortable and included when I’m eating in a Jewish home, particularly on holidays. People who keep kosher or maintain other dietary restrictions also tend to be more tolerant of my own food choices.

My first experience with traditionally Jewish food (aside from breads one might find in a bakery) involved eating matzah, or unleavened bread. I thought it tasted like rice cakes only better, so as a kid I was hooked.

My second experience involved hamentaschen, delicious cookies made for the lesser-known Jewish holiday Purim. After some collegiate flirtations with Manischewitz (wine), it was easy for me to accept an invitation to a Passover Seder hosted by friends.

Food is a wonderful way to create a sense of community regardless of the occasion.

Symbolism

The symbolism of each item on the Seder plate is directly relevant to the meaning of Passover. While I enjoyed learning about the meaning of each food on a level of tradition, I also appreciated the fact that so much thought had gone into preparing the meal. The attention to taste, color and meaning of food is something I hope to apply to food presentation in general in the future.

As a former English major and a neo-pagan in the Celtic tradition (with influence from Christianity), symbols are very important to me in terms of faith and interpretation of texts-holy or not. At Passover, the symbolism of the food is deliberate and explained. This helps me understand the meaning of the holiday.

Why Non-Jews Celebrate Passover

Passover is unique in that it is extremely inclusive of everyone. This makes the holiday celebration extremely appealing to me. As a Universalist, I believe that members of various faiths see and celebrate different faces of the same divine being. Because of this, I like to experience different religious traditions even though I may not subscribe to all tenets of the religion celebrating a particular holiday.

Recently, many Christians have shown an interest in celebrating Passover. As the holiday is inclusive of a shared world heritage and celebrates freedom from oppression, it is extremely accessible to everyone. Like most Jewish beliefs, holidays and ancient stories, Passover is also a part of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, so many Christians consider it acceptable or within their own religious bounds to celebrate it.

When my Jewish friends hosted a Seder and invited Jewish and non-Jewish friends, I felt that the setting exemplified the meaning of the holiday and promoted a message of peace and understanding.

The Passover meal emphasizes many aspects of Jewish faith and tradition, but specifically the holiday asks participants to remember the suffering and enslavement of the Jewish people and the importance of freedom and liberation.

Considering ongoing political conflicts around the world, this is an extremely important message and one I’d like to emphasize at my family’s dinner table once I have children. While I do not feel obligated to celebrate Passover each year, the themes are continually relevant and I aim to make them a regular part of dinner conversation in my home.