Celebration Smackdown: Passover vs. Patriots' Day

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The retelling of the Exodus and a day of Massachusetts boozing and marathon-running are uncannily similar. So which holiday is better?

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Massachusetts's beloved and benighted Patriots' Day, always the third Monday in April, was easily my favorite day of the year when I lived (for seven years) in Boston. You've got your dive bars open at 8 a.m. You've got your Red Sox game at Fenway Park at 11 a.m. You've got your Boston Marathon to watch from the sidewalks. And you've usually got either Bruins playoff hockey or Celtics playoff basketball to gently pass out to at the end of the day. For a sports fan, or a long-distance runner, or even just a fan of drinking outdoors in plastic cups, it is simply sublime.

Some years, like this year, Patriots' Day falls on Passover, the big Jewish holiday which of course also includes a long, rich tradition of ritualistic eating, drinking, and talking about various curses and miracles. Most people who simultaneously commemorate Passover and Patriots' Day have long and happily understood the many similarities between the two holidays. But for the uninitiated among you, here's a quick tale of the tape:

1. The Prophet. Edge: Passover. On Passover, Jews leave a cup of wine out for the Prophet Elijah, who is supposed to come around, heralding the coming of the Messiah. They also briefly open the door of the house to invite Elijah in (and, later, also to show they weren't putting any children's blood in the matzah mix). On Patriots' Day, citizens of the Bay State leave their half-filled cups of beer or sports energy drinks all over Boston and often leave their apartment doors open when they stumble home at the end of the afternoon.

2. Food/Indigestion Index. Edge: Push. On Patriots' Day, you've got peppers and sausage grinders on Yawkey Way outside of Fenway. Or Fenway Franks. Or you've got energy bars so you can run 26.2 miles. Plus you aren't quite recovered from your hangover on the preceding Saturday. On Passover, you've got your mother's matzah-ball soup, gefilte fish, and a brisket that first went into the oven in late March. You've got sweet, sweet wine. There are no culinary winners on this day. None. It is, indeed, not a day like all of the others.

3. Social benefits. Edge: Patriots' Day. On Passover, you are usually stuck with your cranky relatives or at the kiddie table. I know there are stories about nice, single people who meet at a Seder and live happily ever after. The next time I meet one of these people, I will let you know. On Patriots' Day, on the other hand, you are outside, with fans of baseball and running. And the balcony parties along Beacon Street don't have kiddie tables, which suggests that you have a pretty good chance of later being able to leave your half-empty plastic cup of beer on someone's else stoop, if you know what I mean. 

4. Underlying story angle. Edge: Passover. Look, I think the "Shot Heard Round the World" (and here I am not referring to Bobby Thompson's home run) is a very cool historical and political event to commemorate. Without those brave colonialists at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, we might all be forced today to endure even more coverage of the upcoming royal wedding. But I don't know anyone who lives in Lexington today who would join a militia. Do you? And the Passover narrative has the Angel of Death slaying the first-born except in houses marked with lamb's blood. Now, that's a story you tell your kids around the table while they try to hack their way through the dry brisket.

5. Timing. Edge: Patriots' Day. I have often wondered whether Patriots' Day in Boston would been as fun as it is if it took place in February. Or in November. I think not. The colonialists were smart to wait for April. Indeed, part of the joy of Patriots' Day is that it comes roughly one month into springtime. For a college student, like I was, it also heralded the "stretch drive" toward finals. Passover, meanwhile, can force many people to miss much of the joy of spring by requiring them to be in the bathroom for days on end trying to pass the matzah meal, matzah farfel, matzah brei and chocolate-covered matzah they've just eaten. To quote this guy: Let my people go, indeed.


Image: Brian Snyder/Reuters

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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