For many Jewish families in the UK and beyond, spring clearing is a tradition that dates back thousands of years, because it’s linked to the festival of Passover which starts this year on the eve of 30 March. In this guest blog, Juliet Landau-Pope (JLP Coach) outlines the meaning of Passover and explains why the festival of freedom is an ideal opportunity to make time and space for what matters most.
Passover celebrates the redemption of the Hebrew slaves (Israelites) from the land of Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land. The name recalls the ten plagues sent by God to punish Pharoah and the Egyptians for rejecting Moses’ plea to ‘let my people go’. According to the book of Exodus, the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the Israelites and so they were spared.
Ultimately, Passover is a festival of freedom. (The Hebrew name for the holiday is Pesach from which the Latin and Greek word for Easter, Pascha, is derived.) According to tradition, the Israelites fled from Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise. That’s why Jews eat matzah, unleavened cracker-like bread, made only of flour and water.
Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals; many who don’t identify as religious choose to take part in a seder, a festive evening that marks the beginning of the holiday. The meal is accompanied by songs, stories and discussions to encourage everyone present to participate. It includes many symbols to engage the senses: salt water to represent the tears of slaves; charoset, a paste made of nuts and dates that resembles the cement of the pyramids; and bitter herbs to signify the suffering of our ancestors.
Hospitality is a central theme of Passover so clearing space at home to welcome guests is an important part of the preparations. In addition to family members, it’s traditional to invite guests so hosting a seder is a feat of organisation – it’s often a long and rambunctious evening that requires a great deal of planning and preparation, such as moving furniture, extending tables, and borrowing extra chairs. To celebrate that we are no longer slaves, who had to eat while standing, there’s an emphasis on sitting comfortably or lounging on cushions.
During Passover, Jews traditionally refrain from eating foods made of grains – bread, pasta and cereals are off the menu. More observant Jews even use different cutlery and crockery so before the holiday, regular kitchenware is put away. Spring clearing before Passover is legendary.
To prevent contact with ‘forbidden’ foodstuffs, it’s customary to sweep and scrub every nook and cranny of the home and workplace. From cabinets and cupboards, fridges and furniture, you never know where those pesky breadcrumbs might lurk so it’s vital to clear before cleaning.
Passover not only provides a history lesson but also a call to action, reminding us of the need to combat oppression and injustice that exists in the world today. Slavery can also be regarded as a metaphor for pressures of modern life, the ways in which we become enslaved by competition and consumerism, for example. Passover invites us to think about the personal meaning of liberation – how are you encumbered by the stuff in your space and in your schedule?
May this new season bring peace, freedom and positive change to all. And if you’re celebrating Passover, here’s to a chag Pesach sameach.
If you need some help with your own spring clearing, you can find your local professional organiser here.