Look inside any one of the wonderful Jewish magazines and cookbooks this time of year and you will likely see stunning glossy photographs of elegantly set Seder tables. Decked out in beautiful linens with crystal wine goblets and artfully arranged decor, these tables are on par with anything you might see at the finest restaurants in town.
My Seder table? Looks nothing like that.
Walk into my house on Erev Pesach and you will find me hard at work getting my table ready but let’s just say that “elegant” might not be the word that comes to mind. After all, having plastic grasshoppers perched on the edge of your wineglasses isn’t exactly classy. And a stuffed snake entwined dangling from the crystals of your chandelier is definitely not sophisticated. But that is totally okay with me.
But I am getting a little ahead of myself. This all started a few years ago when my two married daughters came home from Israel with four kids between them. Suddenly I went from being a long-distance grandma to a real life, hands on bubby. When Pesach rolled around, I decided that I wanted to make the Seder really special for my little cuties. Inspired by my mega-talented sister-in-law in Efrat who makes the coolest Seder ever, complete with fake pyramids, a realistic Yam Suf and props galore, I decided to see if I could create a kid-friendly Seder that the little ones would really enjoy.
While I may not be artistic, I actually do pretty well in the creativity department. Contemplating the ten makkos, I whipped out a bunch of shot glasses and a box of red jello and made little glasses of blood for the kids to drink while a package of mini marshmallows were pressed into service as hail. And the aforementioned grasshoppers, commandeered from a game that had been sitting in my basement for ages, were carefully cleaned so that they could become a plague of locusts that were able to jump pretty far across the table when you hit them just right.
Energized by the fun of it all (not to mention intrigued by the idea of doing something Pesach-related that involved no cleaning whatsoever), I called up my sister-in-law for more ideas. She suggested sunglasses for darkness and painting small spots on a mirror so that people glancing at their reflections would look like they had boils. A few small stuffed animals were pressed into service as our wild animals and a set of tiny trolls, hung upside down from the arms of the chandelier, stood in quite nicely for the firstborn who died during makkas bechoros.
Our first kid friendly Seder was a huge hit. Magid actually flew by, as did a hailstorm of mini marshmallows which went sailing across the dining room table. Dignified? No. But did the children enjoy? Oh yes – both the big ones and the little ones.
Buoyed by the success of that year’s sedarim, we have been adding to our collection every year since. One year my wonderful teenage son put on a green sweater, gloves and a frog hat and he jumped into the room just as we started discussing the frogs that ran amok all over Egypt. 99 cent plastic wild animals found their way onto my gold Seder tablecloth as did a bag full of plastic bugs bought on Target’s Halloween clearance rack for a whopping 30 cents.
Next I set my sights on the Yam Suf. A blue plastic tablecloth cut down the middle in wavy lines looked more like a cut up tablecloth than the Red Sea, but spread out in two halves on the floor it did the job rather well. The kids and I made our way through the Yam Suf, stomping on clip art pictures of ancient Egyptians that we later “drowned” in the plastic tablecloth as we brought the two sides together.
Hoping to create a more respectable Yam Suf, I bought a few rolls of blue mesh last year with a plan of decorating a wall somewhere, but I couldn’t seem to find any spot in my house that would work well. G-d bless my wonderful husband who came home from shul on Erev Pesach and suggested that we use a tension rod suspended in a doorway. While normal people were busy Erev Pesach doing useful things, I was burning my fingers as I hot-glued foam fishies and other sea creatures onto the mesh strips that were hanging from the tension rod. The kids had an amazing time running back and forth through our sea-in-a-doorway, although I did have to work pretty hard to stop them from pulling down the Yam Suf to drown our clip art Egyptians.
Then there were the crowns. We’re all royalty on Pesach, right? So we definitely needed crowns. I took a bag of fake jewels that had probably been sitting around in my closet for a good 15 years and used them to decorate dollar store foam crowns that I glued onto stretchy elastic headbands. I won’t tell you until what time at night I stayed up making those crowns because my parents will be reading this and I don’t want them to shoot me, but let’s just say it was worth staying up late to make them.
Finally, there were the cups. When my kids were little I remember wondering what kind of cups to give them for the Seder. I needed something that wasn’t too big and wasn’t breakable, so I decorated white three ounce bathroom cups with sparkly puff paint. I remember those original cups. Their names were written in gold and I made purple and green grape clusters on either side of their names. Even all these years later, I have to tell you they looked pretty good.
Now with the grandkids coming for Pesach I pulled out that same box of puff paints and a stack of bathroom cups. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that I could still pull this off since, as I mentioned, I am no artist and kids today are far more savvy than they were 15 years ago. But I guess they aren’t such discriminating connoisseurs of art because my cuties love the cups and I laugh when I hear that they can’t wait to see what kind of cups I am going to make for them every year. (Last year it was crowns, with pink and purple “jewels” for the girls and red and blue ones for the boys.)
The moral of the story? I know that the purists out there will say that the Pesach Seder isn’t meant to be fun, but I can tell you that our sedarim are so memorable now and dreaming up new additions keeps me upbeat and cheerful during the weeks leading up to Pesach. So given that the goal of the Seder is to share the story of yetzias Mitzrayim with the next generation, I feel comfortable deviating just slightly from tradition to keep the kids engaged and excited.
Whether you decide to go formal and proper or playful and laid back, just remember that Pesach is all about transmitting a powerful legacy from one generation to the next. No matter what kind of Seder you decide to run, do your best to create wonderful moments that will stay with your kids for years to come. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did.