Passover: The Spring Cleaning Holiday

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Tomorrow night marks the first night of Passover. It is a celebration of freedom, salvation, and liberation. If you overeat of the matzah, it becomes a holiday of constipation. It signifies the last supper, and millions of people around the world will be sitting around their tables with the story of the exodus before them. They will read from the Haggada (which literally means the telling), drink four glasses of wine and eat a sumptuous meal.  But to me, and many other women, Passover is the holiday of sanitation. Spring cleaning takes on a new dimension as the house is turned out and every last crumb of bread, chips, and dust gets cleared from the crevices.

Growing up, this was never a big deal because it wasn’t my job. In my family, there was a lot of hoarding. My grandmother’s basement was a fairyland of books, old clothing and miscellaneous items I couldn’t recognize. My mother had papers everywhere. (Sorry mom) All the women had pantries filled with necessities in case the next nuclear war happened. In a word, we were packed. So as an adult, the cleaning became a symbol to me of the holiday itself. Emboldened by my friend who professionally organizes and declutters, there is a week’s worth of scrubbing, tossing and cyclone like activity in my home.

Passover in our home begins about a month before the actual holiday. Meals are planned and the hot commodities that get snatched off the shelves purchased before they are gone. (If you’ve ever wanted corn syrup free, original Coke (only available for Passover) then you get the idea). New toothbrushes are set aside with fresh tubes of toothpaste; the potato starch-filled foods fill the newly cleaned and lined pantry, and then the frenzy begins. The Spring Cleaning from Outer Space. I am generally a clean person, but the few stray dust bunnies and crumbs in the couch are exorcised like demons to the netherworld. Just look outside on garbage day the week preceding Passover. The bins are overflowing with every type of trash imaginable.

Next comes the turning of the kitchen. Cabinets cleared, counters covered and the Passover bins make their yearly debut.  Every item appears sparkly and new in appearance, used only these eight days a year. The counters are devoid of toasters and covered so not even a crumb of leavened food is present. The harmony of multiple vacuums (yes, I get the kids to help this one time of year, I guess that is why this night is different from all other nights of the year) and the scent of citrus cleaners exfoliate the house and strip it of all detested dirt. “Out out damn spot” as the carpets are spot cleaned and all the candy stashed in bedroom drawers makes its dramatic leave. Let’s skip the whole cooking for days part, and just say that between the cleanliness and the fragrance of cakes and roasts, the house smells pretty fantastic. Looks good too. Perfect for the OCD crowd, all organized, spotless and ready for guests.

Then, the grand finale- the Seder. Seder defined means order, and that is precisely what occurs. It begins with a chronological list – a Seder how-to for practical purposes and ends about 3-4 hours later with four questions, ten plagues, two hand washings, four glasses of wine (grape juice for the kiddies) and a song about a goat that a father bought for two ‘zuzim.’ And no, I don’t know what that is, I’m guessing an ancient form of money.

As we clean backpacks and blinds, search every drawer and crevice, hiding nothing from guests nor ourselves, we must reflect on our arrogance with the bottom line of changing it. Matzah is not only the bread of affliction, taken on the run before it had time to rise and become bread but symbolizes humility. My best guess over the eight-day holiday, where things remain a little cleaner and brighter than usual, is that it’s important not to let our minds gather crumbs and dust. I think Passover is a metaphor for us to clean our minds, declutter if you will and prevent anxiety. I believe we are being shown that we should keep only that which we love. We need to surround ourselves with things of beauty and worth, but not necessarily material things. It’s all about being minimalist, mindful and having a solid, positive self-image to reduce daily stress. (try telling this to a woman in the throes of Passover cleaning, and you may regret it- so save this insight for a dinner table discussion). Eliminating excess reveals who we are, our true selves, right now.

Sunday I cleaned my kitchen and unpacked my Passover “stuff,” and the potato starch groceries. I ran my hands (which incidentally feel as if they are covered in Krazy Glue – when the oven cleaner says to wear gloves, they mean it) over the now blue covered counters and reflected just for a moment on all the cleaning I had ahead of me. And I decided not to stress about it. Cleaning is against my view of freedom and nobody likes a neat freak anyway. Of course, I love the whole Spring clean idea of the holiday, but not more than I enjoy the madcap antics during the Seder meal from my kids, now grown up and sharing their Seder meal with other collegiates on campus. The rules of this holiday are more significant than I am portraying, but it has a way of uniting the family in one purpose. We order, clean and arrange in an unusual concerto, that in itself becomes a special tradition and memory. So in honor of our fore (4) fathers (ask me later), three mothers, two tablets that Moses brought down, etc.… my family will eat together in the home that we cleaned together, and we wish all who celebrate a Happy Passover.

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