Maybe hosting your own holiday celebrations is a sign of growing up. Maybe it's a way to create new shared experiences with loving friends. Maybe it's a practical response when your holidays don't fall on a weekend and you can't get home to your family.

A few years ago, my friend David and I decided to create our own seder. It was a great opportunity: Our seder would be open, interactive, with lots of storytelling and conversation, something very different from the traditional 1950s-style observance we had both grown up with.

In my family, seders included a complete reading of the Haggadah--the book of ritual and liturgy used at the seder. The edition of the Haggadah we used was published by none other than Maxwell House, the coffee company. We read every single word in the old-fashioned English the book used and tried not to giggle when my uncle intoned phrases like, "And what saith the wicked son?" We did everything in the proper order, exactly as we did every year: Grandma--later my mother--explained the ritual seder plate, all of us read out loud from the Haggadah, drank from the four cups of wine, ate the festive meal, and sang the traditional songs that punctuate the service.

Passover on Beliefnet
  • A comparison of theme Haggadahs.
  • Arthur Hertzberg on the lessons of his parents' seder.
  • Susan Schnur on a new Passover ritual.
  • Teaching Tales: Elijah's Favorite Seder
  • PLUS: Watch a Matzah factory video and explore Beliefnet's guide to Passover

    The seder naturally ended with the sacred words of Maxwell House's full-page ad in the back of the book: "Good to the last drop." We greeted this moment every year with great hilarity, not to mention relief that the long, somewhat tedious second half of the service was finally over. Passover was always a tremendous family holiday, a great time to see cousins and uncles and aunts, eat a fabulous meal, and enjoy a ritual we'd known since childhood. But as I grew a little older, I realized there was something more that could be learned from this most popular of Jewish holidays.

    David and I decided that our seder would try to build on the traditional service: It would still have structure and meaning, but we would tell the story ourselves, instead of reading from a Haggadah. We'd sing some different songs and let people talk more freely about what they were thinking and feeling. We invited people to my tiny fifth-floor walkup and asked everyone to bring something for a pot-luck buffet. We made sure, of course, to have everything for the seder plate, plenty of matzah, and more than enough wine.

    The guest list was eclectic. Besides David and me, there were Josh and his girlfriend, Linda, a German Lutheran who was studying art history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. There were a couple of visiting Germans from Linda's program, also Lutheran, and my friend Frank, the music director of a neighborhood Methodist church. Frank brought along his mother, Mary Frances, a lay minister. And there were half a dozen friends from our synagogue, most, like David and me, children of Holocaust survivors.

    Everyone sat in a circle, on the couch, on one of the four chairs I owned, on the floor on pillows. David began by telling the story of Passover, starting with the story of Moses in Egypt.