Hosting Your First Passover Seder
Passover is coming! The Torah instructs us about many things on this holiday, including:
- We are to treat this season a holy and festive time (Leviticus 23:4-6).
- There are special foods that we are to eat (Exodus 12:8) and not eat (Exodus 12:15-19).
- We are to tell our children on that day about how God took us out from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 13:8).
Since ancient times, all of these commands are observed though taking part in a special ceremony on Passover night called a seder (which sounds like "SAY-der"). This annual event is one of the most important, meaningful, and fun events in Jewish life.
Perhaps you would like to host a seder in your home, but don't know where to start. Here are some basics tips to help you.
1. Set the date and invite your guests.
The date of Passover is important. The Torah explicitly tells us regarding Passover, "You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year" (Exodus 13:10).
Biblically, a new day begins at sunset, rather than at midnight. That means that if you see "Passover" marked on a day on your calendar, the seder is probably held the night before. In 2010, the seder is held on Monday night, March 29.
When you extend your invitations, don't limit it to just family and close friends. Try to invite people who don't have a place to go or who have never been to a seder before. It's also a good idea to communicate to them a little about what to expect and how long it will take.
2. Get all of the items you need for the seder.
Haggadot (plural of Haggadah). The Haggadah is a booklet that guides you through the basic steps of the seder. Get enough for each person to have one, and order it now to make sure it arrives in time for Passover.
A seder plate. Many people have beautifully decorated, sectioned platters that are intended for use just on the seder. In any event, a regular plate will do.
Ceremonial foods that go on the seder plate:
- A roasted lamb shank bone. (Hebrew: zeroa) Some prefer to use a chicken neck.
- A hard-boiled egg. (Hebrew: beitzah) Many people like to give the egg a roasted appearance.
- Two different kinds of bitter herbs. (Hebrew: maror and chazeret) Most people use grated horseradish and either romaine lettuce or endive.
- A green vegetable. (Hebrew: karpas) Parsley is the most common, but celery is acceptable as well. Some used a boiled potato or onion.
- Apple nut paste. (Hebrew: charoset) This is a mushy mixture of chopped apples, nuts, and wine. Other fruits and spices are often included.
Matzah. Matzah is a cracker-like type of unleavened bread. You should have enough matzah for each person to have at least three whole pieces, plus three special pieces to use during the ceremony.
Wine or grape juice. Over the course of the night, each person will need to drink four servings of about five ounces each.
A Matzah Holder. It is customary to use a special cloth envelope with three compartments to hold the special pieces of matzah. You can make one of these yourself by sewing together four cloth napkins.
Candles. Like every Sabbath and holiday, it is customary to acknowledge the holiness of the evening by lighting candles at least eighteen minutes before sunset.
Salt Water (or Red Wine Vinegar). During the seder, each person dips the green vegetable (parsley) into salt water. (Personally, I like the symbolism of the older custom of red wine vinegar instead.)
Hand-Washing Facilities. During two places in the seder, it is customary to perform a ritual hand washing. Practice in the Messianic Judaism varies, mainly because of different interpretations of the events recorded in Mark 7.
Afikoman Cloth or Bag. During the seder, a large piece of matzah called the afikoman is wrapped in a cloth or bag. There are specially made afikoman holders, but a large cloth napkin will also suffice.
3. Get Everything Prepared.
Remove your leaven. One of the commandments for the Passover season is to remove the leaven (chametz) from your house beforehand. Begin this process weeks in advance so that it does not conflict with your preparations for the seder.
Use your best stuff. At this holy time, it is appropriate in the midst of the celebration and fun to treat it like a royal affair:
- Get out your fanciest dishes. If you have china or crystal dishes, now is the time to use them.
- Put on your best clothes. Suits and ties and spiffy hats or yarmulkes are in order—just remember not take yourself too seriously.
Plan your meal strategically. Choose dishes that you can prepare ahead of time and do not require a lot of steps right before you serve them.
Learn some Passover songs. Traditionally, the Haggadah reading is punctuated with festive songs. Boisterous singing will help make Passover a memorable experience for your kids.
Read the Haggadah beforehand. You might even want to rehearse to help things go smoothly.
And finally (a little lesson learned from personal experience),
Invite your downstairs neighbors. Or at the very least, let them know what you're planning. If you don't, you might find yourself singing Vehi She'amdah accompanied by angry pounding on the ceiling. When you're singing "Dayenu, dayenu, dayenu," they'll be be shouting "Enough, enough, enough!"
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