In a time of division, holy-day tables bring people together

There’s nothing like a major religious or family holiday to bring people together around a table. This year, Easter, Ramadan and Passover all fall within the month of April. With that in mind, here’s a short look at some of each religious holiday’s culinary traditions, as shared by Calgarians who celebrate.


One of the most important Jewish holidays, Passover, also called Pesach, takes place Apr. 15 to 23. The first Seder — a feast celebrating
the start of Passover — will take place Apr. 15, after sundown.

“Passover is the time when we come together. It’s very family-oriented,” says Danielle Braitman, the Calgary Jewish Federation’s director of engagement programs.

“Because my family doesn’t live close, it’s one of the few times of the year when we see each other and enjoy lots of wine and great food.”passover

Wine is an important part of many Jewish holidays, especially Passover, she says. “Traditionally you drink four big cups of wine throughout the night, and one tradition that a lot of families have is that you don’t pour your own wine. Someone must pour it for you, and in turn, you pour someone else’s wine.”

Then, of course, there’s the food. The Passover Seder starts with salt water (representing tears) and a plate, one per table, holding a shinbone, an egg, bitter herbs, haroset (a blend of apple, cinnamon and honey) and matzo, a thin, cracker-like unleavened bread.

“The matzo symbolizes the time when the slaves were leaving Egypt. There wasn’t enough time for the bread to rise, so they just cooked it and took it with them,” she says.

Next, Braitman’s family enjoys gefilte fish (ground fish turned into patties and served with horseradish), as well as chicken soup with matzo balls.

“Then we do the full meal: brisket, chicken, roast potatoes, lots of vegetables and salad, and traditional desserts made without leavening. Macaroons, made
with coconut, are very common,” she says.

These days, many families put an orange on the table and eat a piece of it during the meal. “It’s in recognition of LGBTQ people in the community,” she says. “The seeds are spit out as a rejection of homophobia and hate.”

Many places in Calgary offer Seder dishes and ingredients, Braitman notes. Costco, Real Canadian Superstore, Calgary Co-op and Safeway have ingredients and dishes at select locations, while The Carriage House Inn, Karen’s Cafe in the Calgary Jewish Centre, Meraki Cuisine and others offer catering and food to go.


This year, Good Friday falls on Apr. 15, and Easter Sunday, of course, is two days later, on Apr. 17.

Kids across the city will celebrate Easter Sunday morning with baskets of candy, chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts.

easterOthers take their culinary traditions one step further. Born in Rome, Barbara Lee grew up in Calgary but moved back to Rome for 30 years
and only returned to Calgary in 2021. Now she and her family own and operate Italiano Please!, a Roman takeaway and catering business here.

Lee says that for her family, the Italian Easter feast starts at breakfast on Easter Sunday with hardboiled eggs, corallina salami (a Roman speciality) and pizza al formaggio. “It translates as cheese pizza, but it’s more like a Christmas panettone but with pecorino cheese and no fruit,” she says.

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. “A nice lasagna would be a good place to start, or maybe some fettuccini, if you have someone who makes it by hand,” says Lee. Then, following the pasta, there’s a meat course. “It’s either lamb or baby goat — unfortunately for them but lucky for us. It’s almost always roasted in the oven with potatoes.”

Seasonality is key, she says, adding that artichokes and asparagus are both in season around this time in Rome, so often show up on the table.

And a stew made with offal, artichokes, a bit of tomato sauce and chili is also common. “Between your pasta and your second course, you’d have a few spoonfuls with good bread,” she says.

And of course, there’s dessert. These days, an Italian favourite is colomba di pasqua, a dove-shaped sweet bread from Milan that’s a bit like panettone and can be found in Italian grocery stores in Calgary this time of year.

Not surprisingly, after a day of feasting, her family doesn’t eat a lot at night on Easter Sunday; they simply reheat whatever is left from the afternoon if they’re still hungry.

But the culinary traditions continue Easter Monday, “Pasquetta,” Lee notes, when much of Rome will pack a picnic and get outside. “Maybe you’ll make a frittata, cut into wedges, some nice bread and some of the hardboiled eggs,” Lee says. Her family also loves casatiello, a meat- and cheese-stuffed bread that they’ll make for Calgarians at Italiano Please! this year, too.

What’s most important, however, is to get outside with friends and family. “We have a lot of fun,” she says. “Rome has huge parks, so there’s tons of space to
get out and have a nice picnic.”


The ninth month of the Muslim calendar and the holy month of fasting, Ramadan takes place Apr. 2 to May 2, 2022.

“This is the most important month, the best days in the year for all Muslim people,” says Sam El Kadri, who owns The Desert Pita and Grill, a popular Lebanese restaurant in the community of Forest Lawn.

ramadanDuring Ramadan, however, food is reserved for evenings only. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims traditionally fast; while children aren’t expected to participate, they learn, imitating their parents, and even El Kadri’s young children do their best to emulate their dad.

“My kids, they like to say ‘We are fasting with you, Daddy,’” he says with a laugh. “They try but they are young. They can’t fast all day yet.”

Then, after sundown, El Kadri’s family breaks their fast with a simple meal of dates, then fattoush (salad made with cucumbers and tomatoes) and usually a soup.

At the end of Ramadan, people hold big feasts — kebabs and falafel are on the menu at El Kadri’s house — and celebrate with friends and family. “Families come together and it is a time of forgiveness,” he explains.

If you’ve skipped fasting during the month, you have to give away money and food to less-fortunate people, he says. “You make sure all your neighbours are helped if they need it.”

Last year was a tough one for El Kadri, whose father passed away at the age of 91. “It was the first Ramadan I had without my father. That was the saddest I have ever been,” he says.

He is hopeful, however, that 2022 will be better — not just for his family but for others, too. “I hope the best for everyone.”