How To Have A Family Gathering For Easter Or Passover When You're Isolating

You're not with each other physically, but the family can still come together.

It’s not business as usual, this year. Better circumstances would call for huge Passover and Easter family gatherings, but what we have instead is a pandemic and a quarantine, which means everyone is staying home ... including you and yours.

Hope, though, is never lost. As much as this is a season of renewal, rebirth, and family, it’s also a season of resilience, and resilience means finding a way. Even if you need to be apart physically, it doesn’t mean the family can’t still come together — and all it takes is a WiFi connection.

Here are some suggestions on how to make sure that happens:

1. Adjust your expectations

“It’s important to recognize that the holidays this year are different, but they’re no less powerful,” Alexa Gilmour, a United Church minister in Toronto, told HuffPost Canada.

Acknowledging that Easter and Passover just won’t be the same will help you to manage your expectations, and might even help you get over your preemptive blues a little faster. It might be especially tough for kids to understand exactly what’s going on, too, so helping them to name their feelings and then to adjust their expectations is also a good idea. (Saying things like, “We’re doing things a little differently this year, just to be safe,” or, “It isn’t going to be the same, but we’ll still have a good time and we’ll make new traditions” might be a start, and then just be available to answer any questions they may have. )

2. Get creative with your tech

Sure, you can’t be with your whole family physically, but there’s nothing stopping you from being together virtually. There are plenty of interactive apps out there that offer video conferencing, but right now Zoom seems to be reigning supreme: it’s free, it accommodates up to 100 participants, and it has a breakout chat feature, too. With Zoom, you can prepare meals over video with your family, or even hold the entire dinner on camera so it feels like you’re still together.

“Our family is setting up a Zoom dinner, and we have tablecloths that look the same,” said Gilmour. “We’re going to set it up so it looks like our table is extended right into the other person’s home, just like a normal dinner.”

Many people are repurposing business-oriented video conferencing apps to create a sense of togetherness with their families for the holidays.
Many people are repurposing business-oriented video conferencing apps to create a sense of togetherness with their families for the holidays.

3. Pull together a family cookbook or share online recipes

How on earth will you survive without grandma’s matzo ball soup, or your uncle’s classic glazed ham? Thankfully, there’s technology. You can appoint one family member to gather recipes into an online spreadsheet that everyone can access, like a little family cookbook. And if you can’t get something right, as you try a dish for the first time, you can always just make a video call and get some help.

“We’re also in the age of YouTube and instructional videos, so you can find just about anything you want to if you’re not sure of how to cook something,” Zane Caplansky, owner of Caplansky’s Deli, told HuffPost Canada. “It might be hard for you to get the ingredients for that gefilte fish, but there are always videos and Facebook groups that can help.”

4. Consider a potluck

OK, so maybe you’re not the best chef. Maybe you don’t trust yourself with Grandma’s braised brisket recipe. Maybe Mom’s garlic smashed potatoes always turn out too garlicky when you do them. But it’s still possible for you to organize a contactless potluck, like a little family delivery service.

“My parents are going to make two of our favourite banana cakes with caramel icing and deliver one to our doorstep, so we’ll be eating some of the same food,” said Gilmour. “We’re still social distancing, so it’s OK. But this is a time when family recipes can invoke the familiar experience of being together, even when our bodies can’t.”

5. Don’t stress. Order takeout.

So you’re far from being the next Gordon Ramsay, and you don’t live close enough to your family for the whole potluck thing to work. That’s OK. Plenty of people across North America and around the world will be ordering in this holiday season. While lots of restaurants are closed, there are still resources available online if you want to order takeout.

“There are even Facebook groups where you can just ask, ‘Is anybody providing Passover meals?’ and find something there,” says Caplansky.

6. Think up an act of service

Holidays like Easter and Passover are great times, not just for feasting with family, but for giving back to the community. And in light of the pandemic, there are lots of people out there who need some help. Gilmour said this is when folks can start reconsider the meaning of family, and prioritize those in need by dropping off groceries or meals. It can be as simple, even, as giving your neighbour a call to make sure they’re doing alright.

“Maybe you haven’t lost your job at this time, and you’ve discovered you have some leftover income, because you aren’t going out as much,” said Gilmour. “That could be a gift to someone who needs it.”

If you're able to, offer to help deliver groceries to elderly folk who might not be able to go out to get ingredients for dinner.
If you're able to, offer to help deliver groceries to elderly folk who might not be able to go out to get ingredients for dinner.

Use your resources to make Passover a success

If you’re having a really tough time putting those meals together, what with the grocery store supply chain being so precarious, there are COVID-19 Jewish response groups on Facebook that might be able to lend a helping hand.

“One thing I’m missing on my seder plate is a proper whole horseradish,” said Caplansky. “So I posted in a group, and I’m hoping that somebody will come through with one before Seder.”

As for tradition, you don’t have to abandon hiding the afikomen, or reading from the Haggadah (there are plenty of online versions out there).

And if you’re going to be observing the no-electronics rule of Passover, you can still do a Zoom call beforehand, and then focus on being present with whomever is around you in the moment.

If you're not sure how to make something, like matzo ball soup, don't be deterred — Caplansky says help is always just a click away.
If you're not sure how to make something, like matzo ball soup, don't be deterred — Caplansky says help is always just a click away.

Keep the traditions going at Easter

To be fair, everything doesn’t have to change. You can still decorate, and you can still express gratitude around the dinner table in the same way you would at a regular Easter dinner.

Plus, the Easter bunny is, of course, an essential worker. Egg hunts can happen at home, via videochat with other family members. There are even homemade dyes you can make for decorating hardboiled or blown eggs.

“We’ll still be attending all of the Easter and Holy Week services — we’re just doing them online,” said Gilmour. “Wherever possible, we’re including elements of ritual that are familiar, because in this time of chaos, the familiarity of ritual and tradition can be a great source of comfort.”

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