Here are some ways to plan joy into your seder:
1) Answering children's questions is the main purpose of the seder and it is the experience that gives the seder a heart and soul. Get started early on helping the children attending your seder to have questions that they are genuinely curious about. Read Passover stories with them and start writing down the questions they ask. Even better, get them to tell you the story and find the questions together with them. The haggadah reminds us that we have an obligation to teach each child in a way that is appropriate to his or her abilities and interests. Make sure that you get older and more curious children to ask deeper questions in a way that will keep them interested—How do we experience slavery in our lives today? Where is Pharaoh in the world today and where is Pharaoh in our own hearts?
2) Keep a balance between traditions and new innovations. Many of the joys of the seder come from doing things exactly as they have been done in the past—with cherished ritual objects, favorite recipes, and the little details that make the seder your own. Be aware, though, of the places where traditions have outlived their purpose or have grown stale. My family use to conduct our seder under a tent in the living room as a way to give us more room and make the seder more exciting for the kids. After a few years, though, the innovation turned into a just another "thing we're supposed to do," so we dropped it. Try at least one new thing every year.
3) Don't turn the Haggadah into an idol. I love the poetry of the Haggadah, but I know that there are plenty of seders in which reading the words becomes more important than finding meaning in them. It is helpful to remember that the Haggadah developed over centuries. In its original form, the Haggadah was little more than an outline of topics and a series of suggestions for conducting the seder. Give the Haggadah its due, but make sure its message doesn't get swallowed up in its words.
4) Sing. Sing. Sing. The seder has some of the funniest and oddest music in the entire repertoire of Jewish liturgy. Enjoy it and sing it out. When else during the Jewish year do we sing a sacred song about how "it would have been enough" for God to deliver us from Egypt even if we never got the Torah? How odd is it that we ask our children to sing a song of questions that we never completely answer? Who can explain a song that is the Jewish equivalent of "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly"? Have fun with them all.
5) Share your seder. There is a moment in the seder in which we open the door and invite all who are hungry to join us. It should not be just a symbolic gesture. There are plenty of people who hunger for food and there are plenty of people who hunger for spiritual and community connection. Invite them to your seder and discover how much more joyful your seder can be when you welcome others to join you, especially those who may not otherwise have any seder to attend.
What are your suggestions for a more joyful seder? Let us know in the comments.