Enriching Your Holidays
Each year more families “go green” by incorporating environmentally sound practices into their Passover celebration. Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we have some tips for making your holiday eco-friendly. We hope one of ways you’ll commemorate this season of renewal is to visit the Garden with your family, to see how the earth is gloriously rejuvenating itself within our 24 individual gardens and four natural areas.
Spring’s promise of renewal fits in with the Passover theme, as the story of Exodus tells how Jews were released from slavery and left Egypt, determined to renew themselves as a people. The Passover seder, centered around food and rich with symbols, is a special time for families to gather and remember by retelling the story in a traditional format (seder means “order”). But, as with so many other holidays, commercialism has encroached upon the sacred nature of Passover, which can also involve a fair amount of junk!
A Plague of Plastic
As the story of the Exodus is told around the table, youngsters are encouraged to participate (i.e., not wander off) though engaging activities and songs. A hugely popular accompaniment to the seder’s recitation of the ten plagues* is a “bag of plagues” for children containing little toys symbolizing each plague: hailstones, cheap sunglasses (darkness), bugs, beasts, and finger puppets, among other things. One website alone has sold 70,000 plague kits since 1995, and many of these items are made of that old petroleum-derived mainstay, plastic, or its petrochemical cousins rubber and styrofoam.
Unfortunately, no company has yet developed a compostible “bag-o-plagues.” The best we can do here is to encourage you to pass those nonbiodegradable tchochkes along from generation to generation, or forego them entirely, relying on your dynamic storytelling ability and the engaging songs to hold the kids’ attention. However, there are many green options for Passover, most centered around the seder meal.
The Table Sets the Tone
Your table settings can set the tone for the holiday. Try to avoid using paper products for your seder, even if the crowd you expect exceeds your china count. If you must use disposable settings, consider purchasing compostable items for dining such as those used in the Garden Café at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Some eco-conscious stores carry biodegradable tableware, but you might find shopping online easier; there are a number of websites offering these corn- , bamboo- , or sugar cane-based items, such as ecoproducts.com, greenyour.com, and www.branchhome.com.
Making the Switch
The main thing to remember in planning your seder are these three words: organic, local, sustainable. These days it's possible to put an eco-friendly spin on Passover by switching from conventionally grown to organically and perhaps locally produced items for your seder plate: karpas, the green herb representing new life (usually parsley); maror, a bitter herb representing the bitterness of slavery (usually horseradish); beitzah, a roasted egg that represents renewal and rebirth; zeroah, a roasted shank bone representing the lamb that in ancient times was sacrificed on Passover; and charoset, a mixture of fruits, nuts, and wine that represents the mortar Jewish slaves used in constructing buildings.
Organic produce has never been easier to find, whether used on your seder plate or in recipes. Seasonal, local items are available in spring that are more appropriate and earth-friendly than off-season items shipped halfway around the world. Strawberries, cherries, asparagus, and artichokes are featured in many Passover recipes, and lettuces, leeks, and spinach are also available. Don’t forget to bring your own bags when you shop—many grocery stores sell recycled shopping bags. Free-range and organic meat is also an option (if you keep kosher and can’t find organic kosher meat nearby, these websites will ship: www.aaronsgourmet.com, www.blackwing.com, www.goldenwestglatt.com.
Matzah is the unleavened bread consumed during Passover that symbolizes the haste with which the Jews had to leave Egypt; organic spelt and whole-wheat matzo are now available in many stores as well as online. You can even buy organic matzah made in Chicago, enabling you to shop locally.
Make It Yourself
At the end of the seder, children love to hunt for the afikomen, which means dessert (of the three ceremonial matzahs on the seder table, the middle is broken, half returned to the plate and half hidden by an adult when the kids aren’t looking. Typically, the children are rewarded with a treat when the find the afikomen). An easy, fun Passover project for them is making an afikomen bag: just take an 8- by 10- inch piece of wallpaper, fold it in half, use a hole punch to make holes along the two short sides, thread yard through, and tie. The children can then embellish the bag with drawings, stickers, or whatever is handy. Another very simple craft for kids is the matzah holder for the seder. Since the three pieces of matzah are stacked separately, just staple three light-colored file folders together and have your child decorate the top cover. Voila!
Of course, Passover crafts aren’t only for children. Knitters, get your needles ready (as if there isn’t enough to do already! Oy!): there’s an amazingly beautiful, extremely biodegradable seder plate just waiting to be crafted out of yarn, along with an Elijah’s cup, matzahs, and some felted origami frogs. Who knew?
Chag Sameach! (Happy Holiday!)
Grass is growing, buds are bursting, and now, with a few tweaks, your Passover holiday will green up as well. The Chicago Botanic Garden wishes you and your families the very best of holidays and hopes to see you all out here soon, enjoying springtime at its best!
*The ten plagues were blood (water in Egypt turned to blood), frogs, lice, flies, livestock disease, festering boils, hail storms, locusts, unrelenting darkness, and death of the firstborn (from which Passover was named). Today, according to the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the ten plagues we face are water pollution, air pollution, pesticides, toxic chemicals, acid rain, global warming, ozone destruction, soil erosion, deforestation, and loss of biological diversity.