Celebrating Easter and Passover in Interfaith Relationships

Individuals in interfaith relationships often find that their religion takes on more meaning when they describe and/or share their traditions and rituals with someone they love. They take their own religion less for granted. Celebrating both Easter and Passover is one way to think globally–about the need for peace and understanding between nations–and act locally–by working to foster tolerance within yourself, your marriage and your family.

What Easter and Passover Have in Common

Both Easter, which is traditionally celebrated at sunrise, and Passover, traditionally celebrated at sunset, are family gatherings where occasional friends are invited to join in a special and ritualized meal. As at any family gathering, at both Easter dinners and Passover seders there are always more politics than meets the eye. Weeks of planning, who gets invited, who hosts, who brings what dishes, even who sits where, may be the result of hundreds of innuendos and years of family traditions. The children often have their own sets of feelings, needs, hierarchies and agendas: Who sits near Grandma, who gets to sit next to the window, who wins the egg or the afikoman hunt, and do I have to wear a suit?

A difference between Easter and Passover is that celebrating Passover occurs in the home, as opposed to synagogue or church. A Passover seder stands on its own as a religious event without the need for a rabbi as guide. Easter, however, includes the magnificent and formal beauty of the church and a church service. Easter music, including the Bach creations of the Passion of St. John and the Passion of Saint Matthew, is moving and inspiring.

Passover lends itself quite well to interfaith relationships because of:

1. The emphasis on innocence, on asking questions about the meaning of the celebration. The ritual of asking questions is built into the seder.

2. The emphasis on overcoming suffering. The story of the Exodus is a story of victory over oppression by the pharaoh of Egypt. The theme of overcoming oppression is one that most people can relate to.

3. The acknowledgment of spring. Both Passover and Easter involve an appreciation of spring. This includes eggs, which are part of the seder table and Easter celebrations, lambs, which are part of the seder table and Easter, and greens, which are served at both Passover and Easter.

4. The fact that Jesus’ last supper has a lot in common with a Passover seder. The famous and ubiquitous Leonardo da Vinci painting of The Last Supper reminds the educated onlooker of the connection between these two events.

5. Both the betrayal of Jesus and the slavery of the Jews are stories about one’s essential goodness not being known. The story of the resurrection of Jesus has enormous spiritual passion: It represents the hope of peace and an ongoing connection with a loved one despite that person’s death. It reminds people that they can, in memory, ceremony, prayer or meditation, reconnect with the essence and spirit of those who have gone.

What to Keep in Mind When Celebrating Easter and Passover

Passover and Easter often overlap—and it can be tricky to figure out how to combine them or make them feel distinct if your family or dietary traditions conflict. When they fall close to each other, Christian-Jewish families may be creative and find ways to relate the holidays. Here are some practical ways the two celebrations are connected.

  • They share common themes of spring and rebirth.
  • While Easter eggs are hidden (kind of like the afikomen), Passover eggs show up right on the seder plate.
  • Easter flowers are used for decoration and parsley—another sign of spring—is eaten as one of the first steps in the seder.

If seder nights overlap with Easter, the struggle to figure out how to juggle a big celebration at night with another one in the morning is real, especially if the families celebrating the different holidays don’t live near each other. Even if major meals don’t coincide, keeping Passover during Easter brunch is no easy feat. Or, imagine going from a seder of matzah and brisket one night to an Easter dinner the next with ham and pasta—there will probably be some cognitive—and possibly digestive—dissonance.

Many Christians actually have a deep interest in the holiday because the Passover story and the themes of liberation and redemption were important to Jesus. Christian readings of the Bible also interpret some parts of the Exodus story as related to the story of Jesus’ life and death.

Interestingly, some churches hold seders during Passover or in the days leading up to Easter. Interfaith families may want to be aware that some Jews have negative or conflicting feelings toward church seders and may feel as though these seders are an appropriation of Jewish traditions. Other Jews feel fine about them and are willing to attend or assist churches in running such a seder.

If you or your family get invited to a church seder, check in with each other about your feelings and ask the organizers any questions that may help you decide whether or not you want to attend.

Return to the Guide to Passover


18Doors

18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact info@18doors.org.

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Author: 18Doors