Our Passover 2017

Confession: Even though the month of April is history, I still want to share pictures of our Passover supper with you.

For the past two years, we’ve chosen to celebrate a Passover feast with our children on the Thursday night before Easter, as part of remembering Jesus’ last days before death. My giant disclaimer fits here: This is an American Anabaptist Passover. The main event is the food, and we don’t go kosher – we shamelessly pick which pieces to observe, and then fill in the rest with foods we like to eat together.

But our children love it, and we leave an empty place setting and a glass of grape juice for Jesus.

We eat lamb, because that follows the original story of when God’s people left Egypt. It’s a costly meat, special for our family – I know we could roast a chicken instead, but there’s something so perfect about the Lamb. We buy a small roast, already seasoned delightfully with garlic and lots of rosemary.

Last year I roasted potatoes and carrots, which is more traditional. This year, having served roast veggies a couple of nights before, I whipped creamy mashed potatoes.

We picked bitter herbs from the yard – dandelion, yarrow, and parsley (does parsley count?) – and dipped them in salt water. The herbs symbolize the bitterness of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, and the salty water is their tears.

For unleavened bread, I tried homemade matzo this year – thin crackers with salt. That was a hit, especially when we dipped them in the haroset.

Haroset is an apple salad, made in a food processor to look like the mortar the Israelites used. I can’t for the life of me find the site from which I originally borrowed this particular recipe, though I tried hard. It was from a private blog and I really liked how he wrote about Passover. We love this recipe well enough to eat it any time of year. Its spices and honey add a curiously delicious twist. So thank you, Mr. American Haroset, wherever you are…

American Haroset

3 red apples
3 green apples
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans
To taste: honey, cloves, and ginger

Process all together in food processor.

Of course we ate hard-boiled eggs, though when I turned them into mice with cheese Ryan said “Do you know how horrified a Jewish person would be to think of a mouse on the table?” I just laughed and said “Okay, well, yeah. Good thing we’re not Jewish?”

We lit candles and poured our homemade sparkling grape juice, and served everything up.

Each year I think, “This time we will do some of the readings and questions.” I even found Elisabeth Adam’s beautiful Haggada and printed it off, trying hard to include it. But then…

Do Jewish babies not fuss?

Are Jewish mothers more long-suffering when they do?

We skipped the readings for another year, and just ate a lamb cake for dessert. I told you the food was our main event, and hey.

It made Jenny happy again.


What ideas will you give me for next year’s feast?

Easter celebrations 2016

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When I began blogging four years ago, one of my first questions for you old-timers who were there was—How do you celebrate Easter?

In my experience it is the almost-missed Christian holiday in the Mennonite church. All sorts of treats and traditions have grown up around our Christmases, including non-overtly-spiritual traditions like homemade candy, piles of presents, and sledding parties. But somehow Easter…

Hmm. Easter. Let me think.
There’s an early service at church, and um…
Let me think…

Four years ago, I wanted to find ways to build excitement, anticipation, and joy into this best of holidays. Since then, we’ve found delight in trying new ideas as a family and seeing what works for us. Some years we’ve travelled. Some years we’ve hosted Easter egg hunts for children, with slices of layer cake for the adults.

This year we reinstated some favorite traditions, and started some new ones I predict will be keepers. I know I’m a month late. But I’d like to share our most meaningful with you, to tuck in your brain file for next year…

1. Resurrection eggs

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Did you know it’s very simple to make your own set of resurrection eggs?

You fill a dozen hollow egg shells with symbolic items to tell the story of Jesus’ final week. Your child opens one a day, and reads the accompanying passage of Scripture. We tweaked ours to include a few extras, combining ideas from this site and this site with a few of our own. (There are even printable Scripture cards here.)

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My favorite bit was our tiny crown of thorns.

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2. A mercy garden

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I am about five years behind on this one. I understand Ann Voskamp created or popularized the idea some time ago, but this was the first year I joined in with my five-year-old daughter. We found it surprisingly meaningful, to dig real earth and arrange real stones and know that his body rested in THIS. Our tiny tomb was chilling, and beautiful. We put a candle in it.

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3. A Passover meal

I’ve always wanted to attend a Passover meal; this year, I did a little research and hosted one for our children on Thursday night, the evening Jesus shared Passover with his disciples before his death. The Zook family did not go kosher. I got a headache just reading the regulations, and in the end I said “All things are lawful unto me” and served normal food, picking and choosing which symbols to keep and which to omit.

We ate roasted leg of lamb and unleavened bread and bitter herbs and haroset.

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This is not a good shot, but I was a little too busy being there to also be a great photographer.

Since our children are young and squirmy, we didn’t get to do the readings I was hoping. We were in this for the food alone. But there is always next year…

4. Good Friday singing

In our community, a Friday evening church service is not a thing. This year, my parents invited us to a beautiful new tradition—meeting in their home with a few friends to sing. We sang by candlelight, songs of the suffering of Christ interspersed with Scripture readings. When the music was done, we blew out our candles and left in silence.

pumpkin maple candle

5. Time in a graveyard

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Photo credit: Ryan Zook

Maybe this one sounds macabre—but did you know that Jesus actually died? Saturday night, Ryan and I took our family to a much-beloved and beautiful graveyard. The children played while we sat and talked, then Ryan read aloud the story of Jesus’ death. Then we went out and bought ice cream. There is no symbolism in ice cream that I can find, but it is sweet to share with your family.

And Sunday?

Waking in the darkness to hurry our family to church. Coffee and donuts. An early praise service. Songs from little children. Brunch shared with our congregation. Naps at home. Chocolates. A delicious evening dinner with extended family.

I think it was the best Easter I’ve ever had.

Now it’s your turn to add to my files for next year… How did you celebrate? What traditions have you passed down or begun?

Holiday traditions

If you sat down to a dinner something like this in the last few days, you are among the most financially wealthy people in the world.

Thanksgiving dinner

salad and roll

As am I.

Sometimes it almost seems like a sin, feasting so much—in a way that has nothing to do with whether or not I overeat. But I remember the feasts built into God’s laws from the earliest days, and I know that whatever simplicity may be called for in ordinary living, and however joyfully He invites us to share our abundance with the less fortunate, He loves when we celebrate His good gifts together.

This brings me a lot of joy.

I like holidays steeped in tradition. Our Thanksgiving dinners are with my parents, and seldom vary: turkey, stuffing, both sweet potatoes and mashed, cranberries, and pumpkin pie (not to mention the vegetable sides). The day after, I dig boxes out of storage and decorate the house for the Christmas season. I’ve seen a lot of facebook pictures of lovely and costly decorating, and sometimes I really wish I were that kind of a person. My Christmas decorations come mostly from the woods.

berries in stoneware jug

Scrabble word Immanuel

Pine boughs, red berries, birds’ nests (I can take photographs that make them look artsy, but sometimes they look tacky, even to me)… and a few carefully-stored treasures.

The Nativity scene for babies, bought at a craft fair by my Aunt Rhonda several years ago. It will win no prizes for beauty, but little hands love these people…

wooden Nativity

And the jeweled Nativity, which Kelly arranges and rearranges and adds to, with her best matchbox Minnie Car and a bobblehead named James, so that they can worship as well…

porcelain Nativity

And the Baby Jesus doll, best beloved, in the manger my husband and son built together. He is sleeping on a crocheted dresser scarf for now, to be quite honest with you, until I can get outside to cut some dried grasses.

baby Jesus doll

Did you know that you can buy a baby doll for five dollars, and cut him some swaddling clothes and a hat from white fleece? Kelly loves this Baby with all her heart, and looks forward to him year after year.

We like to add a pair of baby boy shoes somewhere—in fact, one pair has been sitting in my living room for a year now because I never had the heart to take them down. I’ll soon be making Party Mix and Buckeyes, and perhaps we’ll do our Advent of Quiet again this year. These are the traditions.

And then there are the surprises. Such as coffee grounds leaking all over my pot. And kindness in unexpected places. And fostering twists and turns. And my dog’s astonishing Black Friday gift to me: puppies.

puppy paws

I have no idea how she managed this, since she does not exactly hang out with other dogs, nor how I missed all the signs. Does this kind of thing happen to normal people? I’m naming the darlings Shades of Evening–partly for their coloring and partly for their uncanny arrival. Midnight, Twilight, Starlight, Dusk, Gloaming, and Sunset. I have two thoughts: What a dumb time of year for this, and How utterly adorable!

newborn puppy

I invite you to celebrate both tradition and surprise this season (this is me forcing an Important Lesson Out of Nothing)… but, however you celebrate, don’t forget—this month-long ecstatic exhausting Jubilee is all about a baby. He was small and messy and helpless. Put Him in your children’s hands. Welcome Him. Cherish Him. Touch Him.

Baby Jesus' hand

God with us.

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Your turn! What do the children in your life love best about Christmas? What early-season traditions does your family enjoy?