Passover 2016: The Traditions And History Behind The Jewish Festival Explained

All the basics on the Jewish celebration.

Passover is a Jewish festival which celebrates when the Israelites were freed from slavery under the Egyptians.

Passover 2016 will begin on the evening of Friday 22 April and ends on Saturday 30 April.

It is always a spring festival, although the date in the Roman calendar changes slightly each year.

In the Hebrew calendar it is celebrated from the 15th through the 22nd of the month of Nissan.

<strong>Families gather together for a special Seder meal at Passover</strong>
Families gather together for a special Seder meal at Passover
Sam Feinsilver via Getty Images

The festival, known as Pesach in Hebrew, is thought to be named such as a reference to when God “passed over” the houses of the Hebrews during the last of the ten plagues recorded in the book of Exodus.

It is said that God told the Israelites to mark their door frames with the blood of lambs. That night the first born child of every Egyptian was killed, while those with the marked doorposts were safe.

Passover begins with the Seder meal, which sees families gather together to retell that same story.

<strong>A traditional Seder plate</strong>
A traditional Seder plate
Andy Crawford via Getty Images

There are six symbolic foods at the meal - a lamb bone, an egg, bitter herbs, a paste of apple, nuts and wine (called charoset), parsley or a slice of onion and lettuce - each of which represents different parts of the Exodus story.

The Seder Plate (this varies between families and communities)

  • Bone - the lamb that was a sacrifice on the eve of the Exodus
  • Egg - one of the sacrificial offerings which was performed in the days of the Second Temple
  • Bitter herbs - recalls the bitterness of slavery
  • Charoset - represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to make bricks
  • Lettuce - counts as the second ‘bitter herb’
  • Parsely/onion - dipped in salt water, represents tears of the slaves

Special praters are recited over the meal and four cups of wine or grape juice are drunk.

Some Jewish people refrain from eating leavened bread during the week of Passover, instead eating only unleavened matzo.

This is in remembrance of the fact that the Hebrews were said to have fled Egypt so quickly that they did not even have time for their bread to rise in the oven.