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How to celebrate Easter, Passover and Ramadan in the midst of coronavirus

Holidays are the time for families and friends to gather to observe traditions, enjoy favorite recipes, share stories and decide who’s going to do the dishes.

In the coming days, that will be challenging, as Jews plan for Passover, which begins April 8, and Christians prepare to observe Easter, April 12, following Holy Week.

A few weeks down the road, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins at sundown April 23.

People are finding ways to make it work this year – to somehow stay connected during this time of social distancing and restricted gatherings.

It helps that in recent weeks churches, synagogues and mosques, including those in Western New York. have shifted religious services online or taken other steps to continue to reach out to their communities.

To socialize from home, people have been turning to platforms such as Zoom for virtual dinner gatherings, cocktail hours and other social interactions.

Still, the holidays can be extra stressful, especially in a time when families are already separated by distance – and that those who do live near each other may not be able to gather.

Yes, today’s technology can help. So can people savoring – and sharing with others – the memories of holidays past.

Buffalo resident Linda Gellman knows she can’t duplicate the large gatherings during Passover at her childhood home in Washington, D.C.

But she enjoys talking about them.

She remembers the kids’ tables. The traditional food. And her father’s heavily marked-up Haggadah, the book used during the Seder that tells the story of Passover.

“We had the big house in the family, so we had everyone over. The adults were at the big table. The kids were at different card tables, and it was always fun. My father always hid the matzah (the afikomen, a Passover Seder tradition)," she said.

"We all had to run around the house trying to find it, and we got $5 if we won. It was just something you could count on every year. You knew the family was going to come together. You knew what the meal was going to be,” she said.

In more recent years, single and with her grown daughter living out of town, Gellman has gone to friends’ homes for the Seder.

“I don’t have any family here, so my Buffalo friends are my family,” Gellman said.

This year, people are canceling large gatherings at home – in observance of social distancing.

“It’s just upside down,” said Gellman, organizer of the Ashland Avenue Block Club.

Going with Plan B

Since she won't be leaving her home to attend a Seder, Gellman has an alternative plan.

“I’ve been thinking, ‘I need to make some of the traditional food’ – just to get the smells in the house. Our memories are attached to our sense of smell. Nothing is as comforting as the smell of chicken soup,” she said in a phone call earlier this week.

She plans to make tzimmes, haroset and other traditional Passover foods and share it with her boyfriend. It will be just the two of them. She will fix the Seder plate and set a traditional table. They may even read from the Haggadah.

“Maybe we can do something virtually with FaceTime. We do have technology, and so it’s a way for families to be together sharing that tradition. I think that would be a good way for people to handle it,” she said.

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, some families were already facing changes in how they celebrate holidays. Now, they have to adapt even more, she noted.

“Our families are all over the place. We don’t have grandma down the street anymore. It’s time to use the technology and tools that we have,” Gellman said.

Sharing music, not Easter eggs

Suzy Cherry Redino said that one Easter tradition that is likely on hold this year: a weeklong Easter egg hunt for the neighborhood kids on the front lawn of her Amherst home.

In past years, for the hunt, she stocked up on plastic eggs from a dollar store, filled them with little prizes and also hid a couple of “golden eggs” with stuffed toys inside.

“All week long, once a day, any kids in the neighborhood could come by and get one egg and then put the empty egg back on the lawn,” said Redino, an interior designer who runs Cherry Tree Design – Lost & Found.

“As the week went on, it became harder and harder to find an egg with something in it,” she said.

Easter is one of the quietest holidays at the Redino home. She and her husband, Rick, have two grown children living out of town.

“Everybody is ‘command performance’ on Thanksgiving, but Easter is kind of low key,” she said.

Even so, knowing that her Facebook friends are altering their holiday traditions, Redino plans to treat them to something: her piano playing.

She plans to record herself playing songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar” – she’s a big fan of the rock opera – and post them on Facebook before Easter. She’ll also be sharing the classic “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?"

Redino has done previous recordings, often seasonal, playing and posting songs she knows are some of her friends’ favorites. For St. Patrick’s Day, one song was “Danny Boy.”

“I’m finding people are really enjoying listening to them. I’m getting a lot of responses. It’s so good for me, too, because I’m sharing what I enjoy. I’m actually sitting at my piano right now,” she said, during a phone call.

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Three websites that you may find helpful, especially with the holidays ahead

• Martha Stewart published a post on how to celebrate Easter or Passover during social distancing. One tip: Decorate anyway.

• Better Homes and Gardens explains some free video calling platforms that can help you stay connected.

• Kids can help add a touch of spring to your home with these do-it-yourself decorating ideas.

Have examples to share about how daily life is changing for Western New Yorkers? Reach out to Susan Martin at smartin@buffnews.com.

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