It’s erev Pesach, the house is sparkling, the chicken soup is cooking, the potatoes have been peeled (20 pounds worth) and the guests are on their way.
You’re so excited, for it’s been quite a while since you’ve seen the out-of-towners, and your heart is beating quickly in anticipation. But you have a dreadful feeling because the real Pesach workout is just beginning, and you pray that you will have the strength and patience to get through the next few days.
And you can – by establishing a few ground rules, and facts on the ground. Here they are:
If your guests are married children, you must (upon their arrival) remind them that the week of Pesach consists of holy days, not holidays. They are not on vacation, and your house is not a hotel. In other words, there are no housekeeping, laundry or baby-sitting services, and the kitchen is not open 24/7. Everyone must share in preparing and serving the meals, and in cleaning up afterwards. On Pesach, we are all royalty; there are no “servants.” Hence, we all have to roll up our sleeves.
The only exceptions to “we’re all in this together” are the elderly, the infirm, and very young children. Acquaintances and relative strangers who were invited so they would partake in a Seder should be made to feel like guests of honor and not be expected to take part in the “chores.”
As a host/hostess, you can also make life easier for yourself this Pesach (and any time adult offspring visit) with a bit of foresight and lots of self-restraint.
Foresight involves anticipating the needs of your guest so that during Yom Tov – when shopping is out of the question – there will be no crises due to lack of a necessary provision.
If there are babies or young children visiting, make sure that your home is childproof, including plugs for the outlets, safety gates and locks by the stairs and cabinet doors, and unreachable medications and poisonous household items.
If elderly relatives are visiting, be extra vigilant that their pills – often in colorful hues that make them look like candy – are not left in places where toddlers can get a hold of them.
Have the following items on hand: several extra boxes of diapers of various sizes; boxes of baby wipes and tissues; lots of juices and milk; and toys and books that will distract bored or cranky little ones.
It’s also very important that each bathroom being used by your guests has a container of liquid soap, room freshener and tissue boxes. If possible, a nice touch would be added by providing a small dorm-sized refrigerator filled with water, juice and snacks in a guest bedroom or hallway. This will permit guests needing to get a drink or snack during the night for a child or themselves to do so quickly and privately, without having to make their way to the kitchen.
Most important for a Pesach get-together that will fortify family ties and create warm memories is to be as machmir (stringent) on restraining yourself as you were in getting rid of your chametz. For this, remember the wise Yiddish saying, schveig shtill (be quiet). When your company arrives, your house should be criticism-free – like it is chametz-free.
If you are a guest, do not tell your daughter or daughter-in-law how much better the food was last year at your other child’s home, or be critical of how the kids are dressed for Yom Tov, or how you would do this or that differently. In particular, if you are not invited to do so, do not take over your hostess’ kitchen or any other part of her domain. And certainly do not compare the way she does things to how you or anyone else does it. Likewise, if you are the ba’al ha’bayis, keep any negative opinions or comments about your children or their spouses to yourself. They came to celebrate Yom Tov, not to be scrutinized and evaluated.
Being in an environment of unconditional love is what family gatherings should be all about.