What: The storytelling dinner on the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover (which is tonight), in which certain entertaining rituals are observed.

If you want the slightly more tuneful (to me, anyway) version in the original Hebrew, click here.

Why: Because we got the heck out of Egypt, that’s why. It’s a lovely country to visit these days, but in the days of the Pharaoh… hoo boy. Plagues of frogs, pyramid-construction chain gangs, cat-headed gods and dog-headed gods living together. It was the kind of place a chosen people might choose to escape, so they got lost in the desert, parted the Red Sea, and pretty much laid waste to everything in their path (but we’ll get to the Book of Joshua in some other Most Beautiful blog). The seder recounts these stories not only through banter between the seder leader and the youngest male child, but more notably through different foods, perhaps the most novel storytelling device ever. Each food at the table has a meaning and a story, except for the crazy unexplained hard-boiled egg. For a lightning-fast explanation of all the ritual foods, watch this JewFAQ:

Impact: The seder matters for two reasons. The first is that it brings Jewish families and friends together, and often sucks in the goyim because of the strange food and dinner theater. But it holds up even more because it’s impossible to forget the history after you go to one. The way to a man’s memory is through his stomach, and so when you remember the food, you remember the story. And this story matters to a whole lot of people.

Personal Connection: I’ve been to a lot of these. As an only child, that meant I was the youngest male child forever. So I got the horrid burden of answering the Four Questions all the time. This might have something to do with why I’m so comfortable speaking in public, since the six-year-old me had to gird up to speak on command. (It also might have something to do with why I always invite a younger male friend on the rare occasions I host one.) One thing I’m sure of is that the seder massively affected my tolerance for wine. In modern Jewish seders, the kids get grape juice instead of the ritual wine. Not so much when I grew up, when kids were forced to drink the same wine as everyone else. To make wine more palatable to kids, the Jews invented a horrible substance called “Manischewitz,” which tastes like Robitussin. You drink any of that battery acid, you stay away from alcohol till you’re old enough to afford the good stuff. So in a weird way, the seder kept me out of trouble and made me into something of a wine snob, and I’m just dandy with that.

Post-Posting Comment: My dad points out that I’m describing a version of the seder he’s never seen. In less reformed circles, it’s less descriptive and more interpretive, since everyone knows the story. But in the ones I’ve been to in the last decade, where there are a lot of newcomers present, the whole thing is explained like a travelogue. (My dad also says it’s the Four Answers and not the Four Questions, and because it’s Father’s Day as I type this, I choose not to start a semantic throwdown over this. But only because.)

Other Contenders: Thanksgiving, which may be as fictional as this Eli Roth trailer from Grindhouse, but it’s still darn good eats; Dim Sum on Chinese New Year—be adventurous!; the Christmas feast of the Whos down in Whoville, shown midway through this classic clip.