It starts at least as early as Purim. Not the Pesach shopping, but the Pesach menus. “What shall we have for the Seder?” – the question is so serious that immense thought goes into working out the answer.
“We always have egg in salt water – you wouldn’t change that!” says one member of the family. “Egg in salt water?” says another; “in my grandparents’ house it was egg in borsht – why can’t we have that instead?”
Then they get onto the fish – gefilte fish balls? Stuffed fish? Highly important discussions, these. Soup – with kneidlach of course, but what will the soup be itself? Chicken or something else for main course? What vegetables? Matzah pudding for dessert, or a simple fruit compote… or both?
And all of this long before the shopping has started, before the really big decision as to what brand of matzah to buy this year. (Naturally, some thought has to be given to the question of which haggadot to use. Some people enjoy the variety of everyone having a different haggadah with different translation, different illustrations and sometimes even different instructions… while others say it is all too confusing and everyone should have the same edition with the same pages and no getting lost or straying ahead in the hope that it will not be too long before the food comes out).
You might have expected that as a people with so many centuries of experience of Pesach it would be down to a fine art and we would all keep the festival the same way. But there is no accounting for taste, family tradition or ethnic variety.
The sheer range of customs and tunes is bewildering to some but inspiring to most of us. Indeed, that is what makes Pesach so user-friendly despite all the hard work. The organisation of the festival observances involves us all.