Passover is the Jewish celebration lasting seven to eight days (seven in Israel, eight outside of it) that marks the freedom of the Jews from enslavement by the Egyptians. According to the Old Testament, the Jews, led by Moses, had requested freedom from the Pharaoh of Egypt, but were denied. To punish the Egyptians, God sent the 10 plagues to Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to release the Jews. The last of these plagues, and the most devastating, was to kill the firstborn male in each Egyptian household.
The Jews marked their doors with the blood of a sacrificed lamb so that the Angel of Death would know to protect their firstborn sons. This allowed Death to “pass over” the Jews in fulfillment of this last plague. Passover is often translated from the term Pesach which means to "pass over" or "to protect." In commemoration of avoidance of this last plague and the resulting freedom from Egypt, Jews across the world now celebrate Passover.
During the celebrations of Passover, the first two nights are spent in Seder or feasting. These special feasts include the eating of particular foods like bitter herbs, sweet apples, and the traditional matzah bread. When the Pharaoh released the Jews, they fled their homes so quickly that there was no time to allow their regular bread to rise. Unleavened bread was tossed into baskets for the journey back to Israel, and baked by the sun, resulting in a flatbread or cracker. In response, Jews who adhere to dietary laws rid their homes of all leavened bread, called chametz, before Passover begins.
The day before Passover begins is often called the Fast of the Firstborn. Firstborn males in the family may fast in remembrance of the fact that firstborn Jewish males were spared during the slaughter of the firstborns in Egypt. Also the first and last days of Passover are days when work is prohibited.
Passover is both a holy time and a celebratory one. It is associated with the spring and is begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month, Nisan. Since the Jewish calendar is based on the Lunar Cycle, the date of Passover changes yearly in the Gregorian calendar, but typically, Passover falls in March or April.
During Passover, Jews read from the text of the Haggadah. This text is similar to Exodus in the Old Testament, and also includes instructions for the appropriate celebrating of Passover and the proper way to conduct Passover Seders. Passover is also an instructional time for young members of the family, who learn about how each food item eaten during Seder is not only an object of food but also a symbol of the Israelites' imprisonment by the Egyptians and their subsequent freedom.
Some Christians also celebrate Passover, since most Christians believe that Jesus’ last meal prior to his crucifixion was a Passover Seder. In commemoration of the Last Supper, Christians may conduct one Seder on the Thursday prior to Easter, which often coincides with the first date of the more traditional Jewish first day of Passover.