For your con-seder-ation — tips for staying awake

As the father of three young children, I have come to the conclusion that the essential difference between children and grown-ups is that grown-ups want to sleep at night while children do not. Put another way: The natural state of children is consciousness, while it is the opposite for adults. Hence, the existence of the coffee industry. On the seder nights, however, we want to encourage both children and adults to stay awake. Now, keeping the children awake is a lot easier than keeping those sleepy grown-ups interested and alert, particularly without the aid of caffeine. Here, then, are some suggestions for keeping your adults awake during your sedarim: *Before candlelighting, set all clocks back at least three hours and ask all participants to reset their watches. Alternatively, tell everyone to pretend it's Saturday night or New Year's Eve. No self-respecting grown-up will ever go to bed before midnight on Saturday night.

*Take turns reading sections of the Haggadah, but in an unpredictable pattern. For example, don't just say, "Hey nudnick, it's your turn." Instead, call out, "Now the person with blue eyes and a green dress with the red wine stain." Or, if you have a teenager, "Now the person with green hair, an earring and brown eyes." This technique is particularly good for testing their reflexes and response times.

*If you have accountants at the table, keep their minds awake and off the impending tax file date by asking them to figure out how 70 persons became 600,000 in just 210 years in Egypt, or how long it would have taken them to clear customs if they were all to arrive at the same time on 747s.

Remember, since this is Yom Tov, calculators, slide rules, pens and note pads are not allowed. This is guaranteed to keep them occupied at least until dinner. For everybody else, ask them to tabulate their cholesterol and/or sodium intake during the meal.

*For the sports fan(atic)s at the table who are by now experiencing heavy withdrawal symptoms, remind them that: (a) the real hockey playoffs won't get under way for at least another two weeks; (b) the only sports on TV right now are figure skating and curling; and (c) to think of the part of the seder after the meal as overtime/extra innings, with interviews and highlights to follow.

*Frequently interrupt the seder with deep probing questions for discussion. Examples: What is the significance of the piña colada-flavored macaroon? When the Jews left Egypt, did they get a volume discount on wagon rentals? Thezanier, the better.

As an alternative, quiz them on what Aunt Zelda served for dessert on the second night of Pesach in 1985. Remember, "When do we eat?" or "When are we going to be finished?" do not qualify.

*The postmeal parts of the seder are definitely the most challenging for any leader, as sleepiness starts to set in from the huge meal and many glasses of wine. Perhaps this explains why most people just speed through these parts.

Announce a new house rule that the first one to fall asleep or leave the table for something other than a bathroom visit gets the honor of doing the dishes afterwards. A sure-fire trick.