Passover Seder Must-Haves
A guide to creating a personalized, easy, kid-friendly seder that's just right for you and your guests
By Amy Deutsch
This year I’m hosting my very first seder. My daughter is 2.5-years-old and I know for a fact that there’s no way she’s going to make it through the traditional seder in the hagaddah that we always use. And though I know handing her an Ipod or DVD player will distract her long enough to let her sit at the table with the rest of us—that’s not what Passover is about. I want my daughter to be able to participate in the seder as much as possible, because one of the most important parts of Judaism, to me, is teaching it to my children.
So how am I going to reconcile this?
I’m planning to make my own hagaddah. And when I say “make,” I really mean that I plan to look at a few different open-source hagaddahs, a few different printed-out hagaddahs, and then take the basics and make it work for our family. Though a traditional seder has many many steps (which I totally remember memorizing in Hebrew school: kadesh, urchatz, karpas, yachatz…there’s fourteen in all), the seder we plan to run in our home, designed for young children, certainly will not. Here’s what it boils down to—each of our steps, what it’s about, and why it’s important.
1. Setting Up The Table
A seder table looks different than a typical Jewish festival table. From the seder plate to the multiple Kiddush cups to the matzah, it’s a special festive meal. I’m going to have my daughter help me set the table, and I’m going to talk to her about the seder plate itself. (Check out our primer on the seder plate and fun coloring page/cheat sheet.) We’ll chat about the importance of the holiday, and I’ll attempt to prepare her that after we sit down, there will be some talking before we eat.
2. Blessings Over Candles and Wine
Jews light candles to sanctify time at the start of holidays, to mark that this time is holy, different, and special. The blessing is similar to what we say each Shabbat (instead of ending with the word Shabbat, on Passover you end with the words yom tov, meaning holiday) so I know my daughter will try to join in. And then the blessing over wine—well, that’s a bit different, but it will still end with a sip of super-sweet grape juice, so I’m sure it will be appreciated. I know that she’ll be looking around for her challah afterward, so that’s going to be part of our pre-seder conversation—there’s no leavened bread on this holiday, little one!
3. Breaking the Matzah
Ah, a perfect segue into the special bread we use on Passover. We’ll talk about how this is the same bread that our forefathers had when they left Egypt and became free people. We’ll all taste a little matzah, and most importantly, we’ll break off half of that middle matzah for the afikomen, to be hidden and found later in the seder.
4. Four Questions
Of course my toddler is too young to really know the four questions. But we do have some Passover CD’s in the house, and I’m hoping that if I hum the tune in advance, she might hum along at the seder. I always liked the four questions, personally. I think it’s an easy place to take a pause and think about how this night is different than all other nights—both in comparison to our typical nights during the year, and in comparison to Passovers past. Who’s at the table with us, and who are we wishing could be with us? How will we continue to make Passover relevant this year and in the future? And I’m guessing my 28-year-old brother-in-law will get saddled with actually reciting the Four Questions.
5. Maggid: The Story
Everyone loves a good story. The Passover story is really fascinating, and the theme of slavery to freedom is one that resonates both for young children and adults. I might actually bring a picture book to the seder to use at this point (the Sammy Spider Hagaddah actually does a lovely job of telling the story with pictures). It will certainly help to engage my daughter, and it will serve the purpose of maggid too. As we read the section about the ten plagues, we’ll spill drops of wine from our cups (we lessen our own joy as we read about the plight of the Egyptians during the ten plagues). And we’ll be sure to sing Dayenu in there—because what’s a seder without a rousing rendition of Dayenu?
6. The Afikomen
Now, traditionally the afikomen is supposed to be found after the meal. But when you’ve got a little one, sometimes it’s okay to bend the rules a little bit. Depending on our timing, we may let our daughter find the afikomen before dinner’s actually begun, or before it’s over. She’ll get to trade it in for a present (I’m thinking about buying this inflatable matzah ball from Modern Tribe.com) and have her taste her afikomen, then the adults will eat their afikomen when they’ve actually finished the meal.
7. Quick Closing Blessing
A seder usually ends with a blessing—next year in Jerusalem, and next year, may all be free. Maybe we’ll add our own blessings for each other, wishes for what we would hope for by next Passover. Or maybe the little one will be asleep and we’ll get to conclude our seder in the traditional way, with songs and prayers. Either way, I know we’ll have created something that works for our family, in this specific moment in time. Next year it will all be different, I’m sure—but that’s the beauty of Judaism. In making it our own, we make it meaningful.
If you’d like some online resources, there’s many downloadable hagaddot—try out this one from JewishBoston, or check out the list over at Jewishfreeware.org. If you’d like to attempt to create your own, go to Haggadot.com and have fun! Oh, and for a different twist on engaging kids at a seder, check out Kveller's take here, or the guide from JewishBoston here.