Passover and Easter: Holy Week Under Quarantine

This train is bound for glory.
This train is bound for glory. Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Passover begins Wednesday April 8 at sundown for those of the Jewish faith. Palm Sunday was this past weekend and for many Christians, it begins the holiest week of the year. Ramadan starts April 23 this year for Muslims. Whether you are a believer or not, being on shutdown during this time is depressing, even if your spirituality is geared more to eating chocolate eggs or drinking too much Passover wine. For some of us, it is a time for inner reflection. For others, it is more about being with family and friends. Even the most secular of us enjoy the traditions because they tie us to our loved ones and make up an important part of our social fabric.

The coronavirus epidemic has most of us saying "holy shit" during a time when our faith is being tested beyond what we would have ever imagined. But, we are not unique in this. Throughout history, people have suffered through wars, famine, pandemics and religious persecution. What keeps us going is the human spirit that believes a better day will come. And it will. During this week of faith and tradition, we would all be better served by finding ways to express our humanity and keep the rites and holiday dishes that ground us and reflect who we are as citizens, friends, families and neighbors.

We have some tips on enjoying the holidays despite being socially isolated. We also have some ideas from families who are trying to keep their yearly traditions alive while self-quarantining for society's sake.

Challah bread is definitely not on the menu for Passover. - PHOTO BY RYAN HILL
Challah bread is definitely not on the menu for Passover.
Photo by Ryan Hill

Keep Connected.

Some of us are fortunate enough to be hunkered down with our partners, family members or even friends. Still, it's difficult to explain to your three-year-old why they can't go see grandma and grandpa right now. While technology cannot take the place of a good bear hug, seeing the faces of loved ones can ease the disconnect a little bit. If you can get the grandparents to log on successfully, that is.

This week is a good time to call all the relatives that you don't see on a regular basis or a friend that you haven't talked to in a while. Your reaching out may make their day. You never know when someone is feeling depressed or lonely. You could be that lifeline that they need. While some of us revel in solitude, others with mental health and addiction issues need to know that they have a support system.

We have elderly neighbors whose children cannot come to visit during this time. I rang my neighbor's door bell with a disinfectant wipe, then backed up about 15 feet while she made her way to the door. Though she has five sons, they cannot be with her at this time, so we had a half hour conversation while keeping our distance. Little things like that help to relieve the feeling of isolation and it's good to talk with someone outside of your family unit once in a while. You can still sit on your front porch or balcony and talk to people as they go by. Social distancing is about preventing physical contact, not actually distancing yourself from people socially.

Many church services are being broadcast digitally and families are being introduced to Zoom, an online platform that is being widely used by folks working from home and is now becoming an interactive social platform for families and friends doing virtual happy hours and family get-togethers. Ryan and Jennifer Hill, out of Austin, are doing a virtual Seder with both sides of their families. Jennifer is Jewish while Ryan is a ginger- haired Buddhist with Catholic parents. Both sides will be eager to see their grandson, Dylan, in real time.  Jeremy Parzen, a local wine writer and contributor to the Houston Press, says that he and his wife Tracie plan on celebrating Passover Seder with family via Facetime. Because they are an interfaith couple, they will also celebrate Easter by watching Tracie's father, who is a Methodist minister in Orange, Texas, deliver his Sunday sermon on Facebook. If that's not America, I don't know what is.

Make the Easter Ham Pie.

The ham pie will be smaller this year. - PHOTO BY BOB RUGGIERO
The ham pie will be smaller this year.
Photo by Bob Ruggiero

Or the beef brisket, matzah or Dr. Pepper ham. Whatever traditions your family normally keeps may be interrupted this year, but you can improvise. The early pilgrims, colonists, pioneers and immigrants that have built this nation had to make do with what they had, which was not much. We, at least, have grocery stores. We may not be able to find everything we need for the perfect Seder or Easter feast, but just a few of those items can make us feel that we are still celebrating. Parzen says his family was unable to get fresh horseradish for the homemade sauce that they like to make, so they are using prepared horseradish for the beef shank. They were unable to get gefilte fish but since Jeremy is the only one who eats it, it may not be that big a loss. Though they won't be able to practice Pesach as they normally would, they will still open the door for Elijah to come in and have his cup of wine. Because they don't keep Kosher at Passover, the Parzens will enjoy a family meal of Tracie's homemade hamburgers and plenty of already bought candy for their daughters, Georgia and Lila Jane. It will probably be a holiday memory that the girls, eight and six, will remember forever.

The Hill family made challah bread and a chocolate cake earlier this week. Once Passover begins, any leavened product is forbidden for the week. I asked if that was why they were doing so much baking and they said they hadn't thought about it, but it was a good idea.

Every year, I make some version of the Italian ham pie that is traditional in my husband's family. This year, with just my family of four, I will attempt a scaled-down version. I can't go out and source all the different meats that I usually do, but I have a big roll of salami in the freezer and that will work fine. Dessert, however, is still up in the air.

click to enlarge The Peeps are not practicing social distancing. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
The Peeps are not practicing social distancing.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

Make it Special for the Children.

A friend of mine confessed that she hoped her son forgot that Easter was coming. No such luck. She's not feeling the holiday spirit but in a world of uncertainty, children (and adults) need to feel some sense of constancy. While both Easter and Passover have changed over the years and traditions vary from family to family, there are still some solid guidelines, whether they be religious or secular. When so many kids are missing their teachers and friends, it's not good for them to miss out on holiday celebrations, even if they are scaled back. If you are making a grocery run, grab a few Easter candies. You can wipe the packages down and hide them in the closet for a few days to ensure that they are safe. You can make a cake, whether it is a three-tiered coconut cake for Easter or an unleavened flourless cake for Passover. If you have the ingredients, there are plenty of resources online to help you make a celebratory dish.

The Parzen family is forgoing the Easter egg hunt in order to save the eggs that they have, but you can try a scavenger hunt instead. If you're like me, you have saved plastic eggs for years so you can put candy, coins or other little treats in them. Or, if you have teens, try a few dollar bills.

Watch a Movie Together.

My husband's grandmother was a devout Italian Catholic and she never missed watching The Ten Commandments and Jesus of Nazareth or any other religious film from the Technicolor days. My family likes to watch Jesus Christ Superstar -- a film that the same grandmother protested when it came to New Haven, Connecticut in the early 1970s.

There aren't a whole lot of Easter specials but Rick Steves' European Easter is an interesting glimpse into the traditions and rites of European Christians. This is going to be a very tough year for the devout in Italy and Spain and other countries hard hit by the pandemic; countries that celebrate Easter with even more fanfare and religious gatherings than Christmas.

Stop and smell the flowers. - PHOTO BY LORRETTA RUGGIERO
Stop and smell the flowers.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
Take a Walk. Meditate. Pray.

For the spiritual, Passover and Easter are more than traditions. These are times of self-reflection, charity and redemption. And never are these things more necessary than during a crisis. For Christians, Maundy Thursday is a day when believers are commanded to abide by the New Testament scripture from John 13:34, "Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another." Good Friday is for somber reflection of the crucifixion while Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent. And of course, Easter Sunday is the day of resurrection and celebration.

However, one need not be religious to participate in acts of charity and introspection. While we are in this limbo, we can ruminate on what is important to us. Who are we now and who do we want to be when this crisis is over? Perhaps we will be better stewards of our planet. Maybe we will realize that a pandemic is not partisan. Maybe we will actually listen to our inner selves and the loved ones around us.

Be Grateful.

Yes, we know that the "attitude of gratitude" has become an over-used, slightly trite expression. Still, there are many people suffering right now and it is not going to end soon. When we are grateful for what we have, our hearts are open to others who have less. And being grateful means being generous. Share your abundance, if you have it. Give your friendship without condition. Give your children raspbellies. Tell your family you love them.

And enjoy that secret stash of Cadbury Eggs that have been hidden in the closet since February.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.