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Credit: Saffa Khan

Your Home is Your Temple: Observing Easter, Passover, and Ramadan During Quarantine

published Apr 7, 2020
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Like many years, April is stacked with some of the most important religious observances of the world’s major religions: Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, in that chronological order. Unlike many (or, let’s be honest, any) years, these sacred holidays will largely be observed entirely at home this year by billions of people, devoid of the gatherings and group meals and services that usually define them.

Passover starts the evening of April 8, and Easter caps off Holy Week on April 12. Ramadan is set to begin at the end of April; Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, is on May 24. Some of the most realistic projections see the current social distancing and stay-at-home orders lasting well through May—meaning the entire month of Ramadan will likely be observed from home. Put together, this means anyone who observes these holidays (which is to say… a ton of people) may be wondering how to do it completely at home, and likely without the physical presence of those they’re accustomed to celebrating with.

Passover: A Home Holiday

I was wondering this myself—Passover is one of the few religious holidays I celebrate each year. The hallmark of the event is a Seder at home, which is a large meal with a “the more the merrier” attitude. It’s a holiday intrinsically tied to being at home—with other people, of course. This year, the home part is easy, but celebrating with loved ones will feel… distant, to say the least. One way my family is going about feeling together for Passover (which lasts a whole week) is conducting a seder over Zoom; we will still take turns reading from the Haggadah, the prayer book.

“We are focusing on inclusion and questions, rather than a big gathering.”

Lori Lander Goodman, Executive Director of Isla Vista Youth Projects in California, has a similar plan—she is also working to teach the grandparents involved how to use Zoom—and intends to make sure all generations of her family are included, even if they’re thousands of miles apart.

“This will be my son’s girlfriend’s first Passover, so I am coaching him on cooking passover foods for two—matzo balls, charoset, etc.” she tells Apartment Therapy. And during the seder, which often involves discussion, “we are focusing on inclusion and questions, rather than a big gathering.”

Ramadan: A Community Holiday

Ramadan is “a month of intensity,” Jihad Turk, President of Bayan Islamic Graduate School, tells Apartment Therapy. Of the four main aspects—socializing, restraint (through fasting), reconnecting to the Quran, and spirituality—two are deeply affected by this year’s social distancing requirements. “Usually, you stand shoulder to shoulder as part of your community in prayer after a full day of fasting,” he says. “There’s a real bond that is formed with everyone else that’s going through that extraordinary effort for 30 days in a row.”

Much of this can be done at home, but tarawih, extra hours of additional prayer during Ramadan, isn’t really able to be done at home. “No one has come forward with a scholarly opinion saying it’s permissible,” Turk says, adding, “It’s not required anyway, so no harm, no foul.”

However, as much as Ramadan is a community holiday, it’s also very much a home holiday, Ahmed Ali Akbar, host of See Something Say Something, tells Apartment Therapy. “With all of the cooking for meals and observance at home, that all will be preserved,” he says. And some typically community-focused elements can still be done at home—Ahmad Hammad, a senior at Michigan State University, plans to watch livestream prayer, and then FaceTime with friends and family afterward to make the most of it.

“My friends and I have all just kind of said to each other, ‘Shit, we’ll have to do Ramadan during quarantine, won’t we?'”

Turk also suggests learning and sharing family recipes for Ramadan to feel connected. “Traditionally, Ramadan is a time of special dishes,” he tells Apartment Therapy. “People that have relied on others to prepare these special dishes can now ask others to do it, and establish that tradition themselves. It’s also a way to connect intergenerationally.”

Easter: A Gathering Holiday

Easter, one of the most important observances in the Christian calendar, is marked by gathering—both in church for services, and often for rituals like brunch or dinner and/or egg hunts and activities. In 2018, 60 percent of those surveyed by the National Retail Federation planned to meet up with family or friends for the holiday, and 51 percent planned to go to church.

With church attendance comprising so much of an Easter observance, many—if not most—churches are planning to livestream Holy Week and Easter services. “Easter is the Christian holiday, and when all of this started to happen, my church, C3, pre-filmed a bunch of messages to broadcast online, including an Easter message,” Brittany Fara, Project Manager at Apartment Therapy says.

Father Alexander Santora, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Hoboken, New Jersey, suggested downloading some spiritual aids online, following along with the mass reading schedule, and then reflecting on it with loved ones afterward. “Call each other and ask, ‘What does all of this mean, especially during this crisis?”

Celebrating in a time of crisis

As different as these holidays are, they have a lot they have in common, too—and anyone celebrating one (or several) of them will face similar challenges of translating their annual traditions for a time of quarantine and disease. Case in point: feeding yourself.

Reducing these massively significant holidays to food might seem basic, but during Passover, the practice of eating unleavened food is integral; the seder meal also incorporates food in a significant way. And during Ramadan, when Muslims fast for upwards of 16 hours a day, food is literally a lifeline. Iftar, the fast-breaking meal, is often prepared and eaten at mosques and community centers; this year, it (along with all other meals) will have to happen at home.

Akbar says that preparing food to eat before and after fasting for Ramadan even in “normal” years is tough—”When you’re cooking at 4 or 5 a.m., you make do with what you have,” he says. “People cook, but sometimes you get lazy. You want to eat takeout at the end of the day.” With both takeout and grocery shopping being more difficult than usual for many, it’s crucial to meal prep—preparing nutritious meals in bulk with whatever food you have readily available will go a long way this year.

“People have been going through phone books and reaching out to people they’ve lost touch with and taking this opportunity to connect.”

Indeed, grocery shopping and food preparation is much harder right now for many than it has been in the past, which will also affect how some Jewish people observe Passover. Elyse Roth, a senior editor at Backstage who lives in New York City, usually adheres to the tradition of eating matzo and avoiding unleavened bread and other non-Kosher for Passover food during the holiday. This year, since she’ll be observing on her own from her apartment, she’s allowing herself to eat whatever she wants. “Food is the only thing I have,” she tells Apartment Therapy.

But as much as food poses a unique challenge during the COVID-19 crisis, it also has the power to bring people together, even from far away. Anne Ebeling, Executive Video Producer at Apartment Therapy, usually looks forward to her mother-in-law’s special carrot cake for Easter dinner, but this year, she’ll make it—”if I can get all the ingredients, that is,” she says.

While the proliferation of online prayer will help many adherents feel closer to their faith during the holidays, convenience isn’t without its downsides. Santora, whose church is providing regular livestreamed services, says, “that really is the only connection we can have to parishioners, which is very sad. People come into church for comfort.” 

Re-creating mosque prayer at home can also be tricky. “The first time I realized coronavirus would be changing the way Ramadan is going to look or being Muslim in general was going to be was when Friday prayers were canceled in mid-March,” Akbar says. “Community is a big part of my practice, I usually go every Friday. My friends and I have all just kind of said to each other, ‘Shit, we’ll have to do Ramadan during quarantine, won’t we?'” Since then, Akbar has shifted to an at-home practice with his wife, father, and uncle.

Eid, the end of Ramadan, will be dramatically affected by stay-at-home advisories, too.

“In my family, we wake up on Eid and eat something sweet,” Akbar says, “I’ll still do that. Then, we go to mosque and listen to a sermon and pray and hug everyone else in the community three times. Eid is the big question mark—everything else you could do, but I don’t know if there is a precedent for this.” Turk agrees that it’s too soon to tell the best way to celebrate Eid this year.

But finding the small moments of celebration, particularly for children, is key. Christina von Poelnitz, who usually celebrates Easter with an early dinner with 25 extended family members, plans to do a mini Easter egg hunt in her home for her two-year-old son. Other ways to continue kid-friendly Easter traditions include saving egg shells after cooking for painting, or asking neighbors to place stuffed bunnies in their windows and then take turns having families walk around the neighborhood to spot them.

Father Santora said a young congregant built a cross out of Legos in advance of Easter; Apartment Therapy’s Chief Revenue Officer Riva Syrop said her daughter is taking part in a Passover “show” over Zoom with extended family.

And though nothing can quite replicate the feeling of celebrating among your friends, families, or fellow congregants, each of these holidays offers an opportunity to reflect on their meaning and connect with others—particularly this year.

“People have been going through phone books and reaching out to people they’ve lost touch with and taking this opportunity to connect,” Turk says. Father Santora suggests looking out for neighbors more than ever, and if you find out if someone needs a phone call or supplies, offer to help them. 

I’ve felt deeply moved by this article, which discussed the meaning of Passover in a time of plague. During Passover seders, the Hagaddah asks, “what makes this night different from all other nights?” Passover, with its specific customs, always feels different—and this year will, without a doubt, feel different from all other years. I know I’ll be FaceTiming with some friends on the first night to discuss why this year is different than all other years before I sit down to my family seder.

Observing any holiday during this time will be uniquely difficult, but it can also be uniquely celebratory in its own way. If you can, find a way to feel festive, whether it’s observing a holiday as carefully as you can, or just eating some extra candy.