When is Passover in 2024 and why is it celebrated?

The week-long celebration honours the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement

The seder plate is part of Jewish Passover cuisine. Photo: Wikipedia
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The Passover, a major Jewish holiday also known as Pesach, is a week-long festival celebrating the Biblical story of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt.

Although it has deeply religious connotations, the festival also marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of the agricultural season.

Families gather for festive meals called seders, during which they retell the story of the exodus and partake in symbolic foods for the occasion. Additionally, the holiday encourages reflection on liberation, redemption, and renewal.

Why is the Passover celebrated?

The Passover gets its name from the Biblical story from the book of Exodus in the Old Testament, which recounts the freeing of Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

It tells of how the prophet Moses was chosen by God to lead his people from slavery. Each time the pharaoh, King Ramses II, rejects Moses's appeal to free his people, God sends a plague on Egypt, inflicting it with everything from lice to boils and cattle disease.

The 10th plague, in which God killed every firstborn in Egypt, was the deadliest. To escape the coming catastrophe, God instructed Israelites to mark their doors with lamb's blood so the angel of death would pass over their homes.

It's after this untold grief spreads across Egypt, that the pharaoh allowed Moses to lead his people to freedom.

How is it celebrated?

While a joyous time for family gatherings, the Passover is still a deeply religious festival. Traditions include the Passover seder, a ritual that blends food, song and storytelling.

Usually held on the first night, the Passover seder is set around a dinner table where families gather to eat, pray, drink, sing religious hymns and read the Haggadah, a Jewish text that sets the order of the seder and tells the story of the Passover.

A seder plate is usually placed on the table, which consists of up to six food items each symbolising the journey of the Israelites.

The items include bitter herbs, which represents the bitterness of enslavement; charoset or a sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar and bricks used to build Egyptian structures; vegetables for hope and renewal; a lamb shank to represent the lamb's blood used to mark the doors; and matzo or unleavened bread.

There are varying accounts of why the sixth item, an egg, is included in the seder plate, but many believe it to represent the circle of life — of birth, reproduction and death.

During Passover, Jewish people also only eat unleavened bread. It is believed that in their hasty escape from Egypt, the Israelites did not have time to let their bread rise and therefore only took unleavened bread for sustenance on their journey.

When does the Passover holiday fall this year?

The book of Exodus prescribes that Passover be celebrated "from the evening of the 14th day of the first month" of spring. In the Hebrew calendar, that falls on the 14th day of Nisan, or the month of spring, which changes every year on the Gregorian calendar.

This year, it begins on the evening of April 22 and goes on until April 30.

How to greet someone on Passover?

"Happy Passover" and "Happy Pesach" are the most popular greetings for Passover. "Pesach" is Hebrew for “Passover”. Other popular greetings are “chag sameach", which translates to “happy festival”, or "chag Pesach samech", to make it more Passover specific.

Updated: April 20, 2024, 12:03 PM