TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As Christians celebrate Easter and Muslims celebrate Ramadan in the spring, Jews celebrate Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, a holiday commemorating the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Passover is held on different days each year in the modern calendar, but always falls on the same days for the Hebrew calendar. The festival typically falls between late March or mid-April.

For seven days in Israel, or eight days across the rest of the globe, Jews perform and practice Passover traditions. From holding a Seder to start the holiday off with a ritual feast to a ban on eating leavened foods for the entirety of the holiday, there are a lot of customs to consider.

Depending on how traditional a Jewish family is or where the family comes from, there can be variations on tradition, but a few things remain the same. Common Passover traditions involve a ban on all leavened foods, called chametz in Hebrew.

What is considered chametz?

Chametz are the forbidden food items during the Passover holiday. Those of the Jewish faith are blocked from eating certain foods to symbolize the bread taken during the Exodus, which did not have enough time to rise as the Jews left Egypt to wander the desert before arriving in the land of Israel.

According to Jewish law and customs, chametz is food that leavens or rises, such as bread, and other products made of certain grains. Traditionally, those grains are wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. For many Jewish families, of the Ashkenazi or Eastern and Northern European backgrounds, the list of prohibited foods is larger.

The additional items, known as kitniyot, include other grains and legumes, such as rice, corn, lentils, peas, beans and peanuts, among others.

Jewish families who are Sephardi, or family backgrounds from Spain and North Africa, have different traditions when it comes to food like rice.

Potatoes are a common substitute for carbohydrates during Passover, due to their allowance during the holiday.

What is the Seder?

The Seder is a traditional ritual feast used to start the Passover holiday the first night, or two nights outside of Israel. The two-night tradition began for Jews living outside of the Holy Land, through a custom called “Yom tov sheni shel galuyot” in Hebrew, or “the second festival day.”

The Seder is the event where the Passover holiday and story of the Exodus are explained and told again, and Jews celebrate their escape from Egypt to the land of Israel. The meal is broken up into different sections, and there’s a special plate used to hold symbolic foods that relate to different parts of the Exodus story.

Children and non-Jews who may be invited to the Seder are encouraged to learn the story and ask questions about the different customs and traditions, and the meal is conducted using a specific prayer and songbook called the Haggadah, which holds the story of Passover, special prayers for the holiday, and celebratory songs.

What’s on the Seder Plate?

There are six items that always appear on a Seder Plate during Passover.

  • Maror, or bitter herbs (typically horseradish or endives)
  • Charoset, a mixture of chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon and sweet red wine
  • Karpas, a vegetable to be dipped in salt water (typically parsley)
  • Zeroah, a lamb shank bone
  • Beitzah, commonly a hard-boiled egg
  • Chazeret, an onion or lettuce

Each item symbolizes a different part of the Exodus story. The Maror and Chazeret represent the bitterness of slavery and the treatment of the Jews in Egypt.

Charoset represents the mortar and brick built by slaves, while Karpas as a vegetable represents the hope for freedom and renewal. Karpas is dipped in salt water to symbolize the pain felt by Hebrew slaves in Egypt, while also symbolizing the renewal of springtime.

Zeroah, the shank bone, represents the sacrifice of a lamb and spreading of its blood over the doorways of the Israelites’ homes in Egypt during the 10th plague, sparing them from God’s punishment of the Egyptians. In the story of Exodus, God used 10 plagues to punish Egypt for their enslavement of the Jews, and had Moses plead for their freedom. The plagues were used to convince the Egyptians to let the Jews go free.

Beitzah, the egg, is meant to represent the circle of life, and commemorate sacrifices that would have been made in the Temple in Israel.

Three matzot, the matzah or unleavened bread eaten during Passover, is held on the table during the Seder and used in ritual parts of the meal as well. Traditionally, salt water is placed next to the Seder Plate to represent the tears of the Israelites during their enslavement.

Jews also celebrate the freedom of the Exodus by reclining at the table. It is a common tradition to have a pillow at the table for each participant to lean on.

What were the 10 Plagues of Egypt?

To convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free from Egypt and slavery, God had Moses deliver signs as punishment, according to the Exodus story.

There were 10 plagues, each one escalating in severity. During each plague, the Israelites were unaffected.

  1. Turning the water of the Nile River to blood, killing the fish and tainting the drinking water
  2. An invasion of frogs throughout the country
  3. A swarm of lice or gnats and other insects to irritate the people and animals
  4. A swarm of flies which harmed people and livestock
  5. Pestilence, harming Egyptian cattle and horses
  6. Boils which festered on the Egyptians
  7. A storm of hail and fire and lightning
  8. A swarm of locusts to make the land and stores of food barren and empty
  9. Three days of darkness
  10. Deaths of the firstborn sons, only the Hebrew families who wiped lamb’s blood over their doorways were spared

Why does the day Passover starts change each year?

Passover dates change in the Gregorian calendar every year because the Jewish calendar is lunar, instead of solar. Jewish holidays always begin at sunset or sundown, symbolizing this difference. Traditionally, Passover starts on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Nisan.

The month of Nisan is the first month of the Jewish springtime, called Aviv. Due to the lunar cycle and its flexibility compared to the Gregorian calendar’s standardized days, many Jewish holidays occur on slightly different days each year, but always the same dates for the Hebrew calendar.