If you have been following along with my Shabbat tutorials, you will realize that it only takes a little bit of planning to create a wonderful meal for family and friends. The same holds true if you are planning to host this year’s seder. It might seem like an overwhelming task the first time you try, but if you break each section up into smaller components and start a few days ahead of time, you should be able to hold a beautiful seder with very little anxiety.
Here is the checklist of what is included in a seder celebration:
- Guest list: Who is coming?
- Menu: What are you serving for dinner?
- Haggadah for each person at the meal.
- Seder plate, plus what goes on it.
- Salt water for the table.
- Wine and a goblet or glass for blessings.
- Elijah’s cup.
- A handwashing station and hand towels.
- Pillows to lean on during the meal.
This might seem like a lot to do, but for the most part it is only a little bit more preparation than any normal dinner party you might have had in the past.
1. Let’s start with the guest list. Of course you will probably want your family to attend, and I always enjoy having a few friends at our seder table. Make sure to contact them at least a few days in advance either by phone or email. If you would like to send a formal invitation that is perfectly acceptable, but not necessary.
2. Now you need to figure out what you will be reading at your seder. Passover is really the coming together to tell the story of how the Jews left Egypt, and this is told by using a haggadah. There are many, many versions of the haggadah. Some people choose to use the book they used as children. Others choose to make up their own. Personally, I use the 30 Minute Seder because I have small kids and we are always looking to keep things short and sweet. No matter what you choose, make sure you have enough copies for all of your guests to follow along.
3. Next comes figuring out your menu. Remember, you are supposed to have cleaned your whole house from any wheat or grains, so the meal shouldn’t contain any leavened products. Some people have traditional meals with brisket and potatoes, and others will have vegan dishes that are quite exotic. Just remember that the point of the seder isn’t the dinner, though that is an important function. The purpose of Passover is to tell our story and teach it to our children.
4. The seder plate. If you don’t already own a seder plate then now is the time to either buy one or make one. I have a beautiful one I use every Passover, but you can easily have the five or six symbolic items on a plate that isn’t specifically a seder plate. Speaking of the food represented on the seder plate, they are a roasted hard boiled egg, a roasted lamb shank, an herb such as parsley (aka: karpas), haroset, which is a mixture of wine, apples, and nuts, maror, which is usually horseradish, and some Jews add a sixth item which is often lettuce. I make the haroset a few days in advance because the longer it sits, the better it tastes. Plus that is one less thing you have to worry about.
5. We all know matzah is a key component of Passover. My kids are always making new matzah covers at Hebrew school, which is what I use during my seder, but you can also purchase some gorgeous ones online. I have even seen people make their own, which can add a personal touch to your meal.
6. There are two major wine goblets or glasses that must be on the table. The first is for the person saying the blessings over the wine, and the second is for Elijah the prophet. We use our kiddush cup for the blessings and just a regular glass for Elijah, but I make sure to wrap a pretty ribbon around the stem of the goblet so his cup is special.
7. During the meal there are a few times you are supposed to get up and wash your hands. Make sure you have a designated area for washing, either a kitchen or bar sink, or a table with water pitchers and a large bowl for collecting the water. Don’t forget the hand towels for your guest to dry their hands.
8. Another item that I always forget about until the last minute is the salt water. At one point during the seder you must dip the parsley in salt water to remember the tears shed when the Jews were enslaved. Make sure each person has access to a little bowl filled with salted water. I have special bowls that I use which I place between two people so they can share.
9. Last, but certainly not least, it is written that we must recline to our left while drinking our wine because we are no longer slaves and only free people are able to drink while lounging. So make sure each guest at your table has a pillow to lean on while sitting at your seder meal.
By concentrating on each of the different components of the seder meal, you can plan your meal with more ease than looking at the whole thing. If you have your guest list, menu, haggadah, seder plate, matzah cover, wine glasses, washing station, and pillows ready before the meal, you should be able to concentrate on the cooking and serving the day you throw your seder meal. I hope you all have a wonderful Passover!