Pesach has got to be the Jewish holiday with the longest to-do list. Here's a simplified version of what you need to get done:
In the Northern Hemisphere, Pesach is in the spring. The frenzied Chametz-purge that we undertake must be the origin of having an annual clean-up. Technically, you could keep treif food in your house during the year, but you may not own a crumb of bread over Pesach. That's why we get all OCD about cleaning every corner of the house.
We all know bread is forbidden on Pesach. Other Pesach contraband includes anything made from wheat, barley, spelt, oats or rye that's been allowed to rise (pasta included) or ferment (whiskey, beer). You'll need to check ingredients of medicines and cosmetics too.
SELL YOUR BREAD PORTFOLIO
You can't own chametz over Pesach, so if you plan to keep (locked away) some bread, biscuits or Black Label for after the holiday, make sure to sell it to a non-Jew. You can sell yours online at www.chabad.org.
HELP SOMEONE MAKE PESACH
Pesach is not a cheap time of year. When you stock up on your matzah, wine and macaroons, remember to contribute something towards those who can't afford their own Pesach.
Get yourself some bona fide hand-baked Matzah for the Seder night. It will add some authentic (lack of) flavour to your Pesach.
You'll need to clean and "kasher" your kitchen and utensils to be usable on Pesach (some appliances and utensils can't be kashered). Click here for a guide to what can and can't be kashered for Pesach and how to go about it.
The Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos Hagadol, the "great" Shabbos. It's the day the Egyptian firstborns caught wind of the fact they were all going to die, causing an Egyptian uprising (yes, already back then) against their dictator (Pharaoh). The rabbi is supposed to review the Pesach laws on Shabbos, and we read part of the Haggadah after Mincha.
SEEK & DESTROY
On the night before Pesach (Sunday night) have someone hide 10 pieces of bread (good idea to wrap them to avoid scattering crumbs) around the house (also a good idea to jot down where each piece is, in case you forget). Grab a feather, wooden spoon, paper bag and candle and set out to find the 10 pieces (and any other chametz you might have missed). Start with the blessing: "Boruch atoh Adonoy Elohaynu Melech ho-oilom asher kid'shonu bemitzvoisov vetzivonu ull biur chometz".
Once you've collected all 10 pieces put them aside to be burnt (with any other leftover bread etc.) on Monday morning.
After the search and when burning chametz, say the "nullification" of chametz (basically: "Any chametz I've missed is of no value to me").
After that's all done, no eating Chametz 'till Pesach's over.
Firstborn boys (or their dads, if they're under 13) should fast on the day before Pesach (Monday). That's out of respect for the fact that G-d spared them when he killed the Egyptian firstborns.
You can dodge the fast by coming to Shul in the morning to hear a "siyum" (conclusion of a tractate of Talmud), which is a reason to celebrate (and eat).
We add "Hallel" (thanksgiving prayers to Hashem) on each night of Pesach.
On first night, have everything ready to go before you head off to Shul. That way, you can get down to business ASAP when you come home.
On second night, you may only start preparing for the Seder after dark.
Place 3 Matzos on top of each other and the Seder plate above them. On the Seder plate you have:
Bone = roasted chicken neck with most of the meat removed. (Top right of the plate)
Egg = hard-boiled or roasted. (Top left)
Maror = romaine lettuce and fresh horseradish. (Set up in two places, middle & middle bottom)
Charoses = ground nuts, apples/ pears & wine (pasty, not wet). (Bottom right)
Karpas = slice of raw onion/ parsley/ boiled potato. (Bottom left)
SEDER 15 STEP PROGRAMME
Each person says their own brocha for the wine, even if they don't say Kiddush. This is the first of the four cups.
[Each of the 4 cups = full cup, in one shot, leaning to left. Minimum cup size is 90ml)
Wash your hands (three times on the right, three on the left).
Say no Brocha.
Dip the onion/potato/parsley into the salt water.
Say Baruch... Borei Pri HoAdomo and eat a little.
Break the middle Matza in two.
Put the larger piece away for the Afikomen.
Leave the smaller piece between the other Matzos.
Pour cup #2 and read the story of Pesach (Discuss its contemporary relevance).
Wash your hands (three times on the right, three on the left).
Say the normal Brocha for washing hands.
Say the Brocha for Matzah (same as for bread), while holding 2½ Matzos in both hands.
Say the special Brocha for Matzah (Boruch... achilas Matzah), while holding only the top 1½ Matzos in both hands.
Lean to the left and eat about 1½ Matzos (minimum 3/4 of a Matzah) from the top & middle Matzos.
Try to finish this Matzah in 4 minutes.
Say the special Brocha for Maror (Boruch... al achilas maror).
Eat about three medium-sized Romaine lettuce leaves with some raw horseradish.
Dip the Maror into Charoses.
Eat ¾ of the bottom Matzah with about three romaine lettuce leaves and horseradish.
Dip the Maror into Charoses. Shake off the Charoses.
Lean to your left while eating.
Eat some of the boiled egg, dipped in salt water.
You made it! Now you can eat the meal (or can you? After all that Matzah...)
This is also a great time to discuss the Pesach story and its modern message in detail.
Bring the afikomen out of its hiding place and enjoy another 1½ Matzos (minimum ¾ of a Matzah).
Lean to your left.
Pour cup #3 of wine as well as Elijah's cup.
Sing the benching (grace after meals).
After benching, drink the third cup, pour the fourth cup and open the door for Elijah.
Praise Hashem for all his miracles.
Drink the fourth cup.
Hashem has accepted our Pesach Seder.
Next year in Jerusalem!
DEW FOR A BROCHA
On first day Pesach, we say a special prayer for dew.
From that point on, we change to "Morid Hatal" (Who causes the dew to fall) in the Amidah.
DAYS THAT COUNT
From 2nd night Pesach, start counting the Omer, 49 days of prep for Shavuos and the Giving of the Torah. The seven weeks of Omer-counting are a time for introspection and personal development.
A MONTH OF HOLIDAYS
April is already a write-off, with all those public holidays, so you may as well enjoy the semi-holiday "Chol Hamoed" period between Yom Tovs, when you're not meant to work.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The first days of Pesach concentrate on the historic Exodus, while the last days look towards the future redemption with Moshiach.
It's customary to spend the 7th night of Pesach learning.
A MEAL FIT FOR MOSHIACH
On the last day of Pesach, we have a special meal called "Moshiach's Seudah" or Moshiach's meal. Join us for a round of 4 cups of wine, spiritual insights and a farewell to the holiday.
The day after Pesach is called "Isru Chag", a day for little extra joy & food to keep the Pesach spirit alive.
You can find more info, all the right times for your location as well as where to find a Seder near you at www.chabad.org