By Mindi Rudan
While Christmas and Hanukkah generally are the Super Bowl of holidays, with some saying they “overshadow” Easter and Passover, others refuse to let that be the case. Kinda the halfway thru the year mark in terms of mega holidays, some folks (even one I know named “BUNNY”) never let the “spring” holidays pale.
Although in colors they gratefully do. Marked by beautiful pastels, the gathering of friends and family and amazingly festive and traditional foods, Passover and Easter can and do hold their own.
This year Passover, (Pesach) passes right over Easter beginning the evening of April 5th (first Seder) to the evening of Thursday, April 13th with the second Seder on April 6th. While Easter comes a bit earlier than most of us would like falling smack in the middle on Sunday, April 9th. Kinda nice though if you celebrate both or have friends who do.
To some, “it’s another opportunity for the Jews to eat,” according to an old joke. But truthfully, the eight-day Jewish holiday of Passover celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan, April 5 – 13, 2023 celebrates an incredibly moving and meaningful occasion. Passover (Pesach) commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The Jews and the blacks have a lot more in common than one might think. Traditionally this holiday is observed by avoiding leaven, and highlighted by a meal called the “Seder” that include four cups of wine, (always a good time if you like wine as sweet as cough syrup!), eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus from a book called “Haggadah,” generally where each guest may read a portion. Raised Jewish, the reading part was a part I never really understood but don’t go by me.
As per Biblical command, the “first” Seder is held after nightfall the first night of Passover (and the second night if you live outside of Israel), the anniversary of the nation’s miraculous exodus from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago.
In Hebrew it’s known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because God passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn on the very first Passover eve.
As explained in the Bible, after many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, God saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Send forth My people, so that they may serve Me.” But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed God’s command. God then sent upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), God visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, God spared the children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as free people.
And so they celebrate by eating!!
Similarly, the celebration of Easter, also called Pascha (Aramaic, Greek, Latin) or Resurrection Sunday, in a nutshell, “Easter Sunday,” is a Christian festival and cultural holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. Easter Sunday is actually considered the most important and sacred Sunday of the entire year marking the anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. Observing this holiday teaches Christians a lot more about faith than bunnies, even though “bunnies,” have become commercially symbolic.
Although observed as the holiest day by both Christians and Orthodox Christians, it is a movable “feast,” thus recognized on different days by both sects which is why like this year, it sneaks up on you when you think it’s at least a month away.
So while the kiddos may think of Easter just as a Sunday where a huge bunny magically delivers colored eggs, boatloads of chocolate and other goodies to their homes, Easter’s origins predate even the Bible’s version.
Turns out Easter actually began as a pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere, long before the advent of Christianity.
Since pre-historic times, people have celebrated the equinoxes and the solstices as sacred times.
The spring equinox is a day where the amount of dark and the amount of daylight is exactly identical, so you can tell that you’re emerging from winter because the daylight and the dark have come back into balance.
So originally? No bunnies, no eggs and even no Jesus, EASTER just simply marked that spring had essentially sprung.
How the colored egg tradition started was that the egg itself became a symbol of the Resurrection. Just as Jesus rose from the tomb, the egg symbolized new life emerging from the eggshell. In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are painted red to symbolize the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. It’s also believed that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting. The egg-coloring tradition kinda morphed from there and has continued even in modern secular nations taking on crazy patterns, colors and methods.
So how did a “bunny” hop so predominantly into this holy feast of a holiday? As Christians probably already know, the Bible makes no mention of a giant mythical hare who delivers eggs to children on the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. One theory is that the symbol of the rabbit stems from the ancient pagan tradition on which many Easter traditions are based —the festival of “Eostre” which honored the goddess of fertility and spring. (Yup, spring again!) The goddess’s animal symbol was … wait for it…. a “wabbit” (hare), which has long traditionally stood for fertility due to their high reproduction rates. (Now the story gets good!)
As for how the character of the “Easter Bunny” made its way to America, “some” say that it was first introduced in the 1700s by German immigrants to Pennsylvania, who reportedly brought over their tradition of an egg-laying hare named “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws” from the Old Country. Legend has it, the rabbit would lay colorful eggs as gifts to children who were good, so kids would make nests in which the bunny could leave his eggs and even sometimes set out carrots in case the hare got hungry. Remind you of any other holiday traditions? (Maybe everything began by parents desperate to get their kids to behave!) Eventually, the custom spread across America until it was a widespread Easter tradition. Over time, the fabled bunny’s delivery expanded from just eggs to include other treats like chocolate and toys. Easter baskets have only gotten more and more elaborate over the years, as one trip to any store this year will tell you.
So whether you celebrate to honor the sacrifices, the triumphs or you just need another excuse to gather with friends and family to eat… Easter AND Passover fit the bill. And here’s TWO traditional recipes to get your own party started:
While many “traditional” Easter dinners feature a ginormous glazed ham or lamb dish, Easter dinner is really a mashup of regional cuisines. One dessert however, fits in anywhere, is crazy good and worth the drop of extra effort (grate those carrots!!) is carrot cake. Moist, sweet and pretty much a universal palate pleaser, this is a tried and true EASY recipe that is always a show stopper.
This recipe is forgiving too. You can dump it in a sheet pan, Bundt pan, bake it as a layer cake or even cupcakes, it’s just that good. (Adjust baking times)
1 c. vegetable oil, plus more for the pans
2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 c. grated carrots
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) salted butter, softened (I’ve used unsalted it’s still perfect!)
12 oz. cream cheese, softened. (Use the good stuff!)
1 1/2 lb. powdered sugar
2 tsp. GOOD vanilla extract
1 tsp (if u have it) vanilla bean paste no issue if not
1/2 -3/4 c. Finely chopped pecans, toasted
1. Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans. (I have made mine in a Bundt pan too! Just cooking time longer) Line the pans with parchment and grease the parchment. Dust the pans with flour.
2. Whisk the granulated sugar, oil, and eggs in a large bowl. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Then, add the carrots and mix well.
3. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. (Bundt pan about 50 min) Just give the pan a very gentle shake if you’re unsure. If it jiggles, it ain’t ready. Let cool 10 minutes in the pans on a rack, then run a butter knife around the edges of the pans and remove the cakes to the rack to cool completely. Remove the parchment.
1. In large bowl, beat the room temp butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanillas and beat until fluffy. Put one cake layer on a platter and spread with frosting, then top with the other layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Top the cake (or surround entire cake) with the pecans. Buy or make some fondant “carrots” for top. You can use chocolate eggs, malted milk eggs anything to make this amazing. NOTE: refrigerate this cake since frosting has cream cheese.
There are so many “traditional” desserts that you can make for Passover but since I was a kid I associated macaroons with the holiday. Ooey, gooey, sticky rich macaroons. Either dipped in chocolate or naked. They are sooo satisfying and CRAZY EASY TO bake!
Coconut Macaroons- I always double the recipe and freeze leftovers. Barely extra work but 2x the happy! Yield: 20 to 22 cookies
14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or tsp vanilla paste or I just use both because that’s me
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or 2 teaspoons. Just eyeball. I don’t like giant ones so I opt for smaller ones. I also lightly pat mine down. I like crispy edges. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool and serve. Or freeze extra.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, do celebrate. Eat, drink, feel blessed, give thanks and make memories. Life flies by in an instant….one day you’re a kid learning a recipe, next day, an adult sharing it.
Mindi Rudan is the founder and former publisher of 11 magazine titles including Parkland/Coral Springs Life, Coconut Creek Life & Boca/Delray Life. Former chair of both the Parkland and Coconut Creek Chambers of Commerce, she’s a writer, a pet mom, gardener, sometime event planner and now a wreath maker! Follow her on FB at: https://www.facebook.com/mindi.rudan?mibextid=LQQJ4d
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