My children's favorite meal of the year (and they openly admit this) is our Holy Thursday meal. We have a passover-like meal (a general approximation) which we tend to get a little better at each year.
For us it seems to help to not start with big expectations, but to let a tradition develop slowly from year to year until it becomes an integral part of our lives. The impact of this particular tradition only fully hit me last year when the kids excitedly exclaimed that it was their favorite meal of the year. I never expected it to become that! I also like how it's worked out that, even though there are some downsides of not having everyone go to the evening Mass on Holy Thursday, this is one that that they get to choose to go to - and the older ones, at least, tend to choose willingly to go to this particularly beautiful Mass, full of symbolism that is made just a little more vibrant by our symbolic dinner beforehand.
We haven't always done this, but I'd say we've had a pretty strong record for about eight years running. One year, before this time, Ria entered an Easter Coloring contest at our local grocery store. They called us on Holy Thursday morning to let us know that Ria had won first place in her age group. She won a couple of frozen pizzas and some bottles of soda. She was so proud of bringing her food home to share with everyone, so we ate frozen pizza and soda for Holy Thursday dinner that year.
Ah, tonight we ate much better, though. Once a year I splurge and pick up a big piece of lamb. It's not cheap, but it's extremely memorable. I cook it a little differently each year (I'm definitely a wing-it sort of cook.) This year I cooked it with olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary and sage and, of course, salt and pepper. I made a gravy to go with it and it turned out very well, I think. (The unleavened bread was delicious dipped in the gravy!). I do need to remember to get one of those oil-separators to simplify the gravy-making process.
When we first started doing these meals, it was with the help of Mary Reed Newland's The Year and Our Children. We still have never made it farther than that in the book. It has a bookmark in a permanent spot for Holy Thursday and we take it out most years to help remember the details. We didn't manage to pull it out this year, but we pretty much remembered the menu and we talked about the purpose of the meal rather informally.
Once thing *I* like about fixing this meal is that it was meant to be fixed and eaten in a hurry. Even in the midst of a chaotic week, we wear our shoes to the meal and rush off to Mass or whatever else. Today was a little more chaotic than usual. Our big van has been in the shop all week and we finally got a call late this afternoon that it was ready. Since we're expecting a major snowstorm tomorrow and we'll definitely need the van over the weekend (!), we ran off to pick up the van after dinner and three of the kids and I arrived at Mass only fifteen minutes late.
Anyway, back to the menu, besides the aforementioned lamb:
unleavened bread (here's the recipe we found online). This took Ria about 15 minutes to prepare and 20 or 25 minutes to cook (alongside the lamb).
We also generally pick up some sort of kosher crackers - Matzos or some such. These are usually very good with...
Charoseth. We use the recipe we found in Mary Reed Newland's book. This is supposed to represent the mortar for the bricks used by the Israelites while they were in slavery in Egypt. This recipe calls for a mixture of raisins, chopped peanuts (I get dry-roasted, other kinds may also work) and applesauce. We just wing it on the proportions.
Bitter herbs - we put a long sprig of parsley and a little radish on each plate. It's colorful and interesting to taste. We also have a few bowls of salt water around (to dip these bitter herbs in) which are supposed to represent the tears of the Israelites in slavery.
Grape Juice - my kids love this part!!!
We generally also have a dessertish sort of thing too. One year I picked up some candied fruits in the kosher section of the grocery store. This year it was some dried dates and apricots, which went VERY well with the rest of the meal.
I did take some pictures and I'll try to post them later. This year, the table was especially pretty as Frank asked very sweetly yesterday if we could get a flower to put in the middle of the table for the special dinner. :)
Oh, and I forgot to mention that the kids love setting a special place for Elijah. The little girls, who made the place cards, carefully wrote out one for him too and Kate and Terri felt very privileged to sit on either side.