Everything You Need to Know If You're Attending Your First Passover Seder
Passover is comprised of distinct traditions and rituals that occur during its Seder meal—something you may not be aware of if it's your first time attending one. "During Passover, Jewish people celebrate their ancestors liberating themselves from slavery in Egypt," explains Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., of Access to Culture. Whether you're a recent convert to the religion, celebrating your first Passover with your new in-laws, or sharing the experience with friends, prepare yourself with these key tips.
Ask a few questions.
Some Seder details will vary by hostess, including the dress code, the start time, and the end time. "Some end at 2 a.m.," notes Schweitzer. "It may vary by year depending on how much fun and laughter is occurring!" If you're not sure what to expect, ask your host or hostess before you arrive.
Choose a gift for your hostess.
It's polite to bring a hostess gift to nearly any party you're invited to, but a Seder has one important requirement: "Make sure you bring something that is kosher for Passover," says Schweitzer—the "for Passover" part is critical, since it signifies a difference from items that are simply "kosher." "Make sure to avoid offering any yeast or wheat or any food prepared in dishes or with utensils used for unleavened food," says Schweitzer; she recommends a fruit tray, a flower arrangement, a Passover book, or wine marked kosher for Passover. If you do bring something edible, don't expect to see it during the meal; the menu is pre-set.
Have a snack before you arrive.
"Eat before you go" may seem like unusual advice for a party based around a meal, but you shouldn't expect to be fed immediately. "The Seder kicks off with a litany of prayers and blessings before the dinner with main dishes is served," says Schweitzer. "Many times, guests may wait hours before dining actually begins."
Decline that pre-dinner cocktail.
You may be tempted to start sipping as soon as you arrive—especially if you're nervous—but Schweitzer cautions first-timers to pace themselves: The meal will include four glasses of wine, symbolizing freedom from four exiles, so you don't want to overdo it too early. "Guests might want to avoid having a drink before the Seder—and requesting any spirits or beer," says Schweitzer. "Any spirit made from grain is not kosher for Passover."
Don't touch the Seder plate.
Once seated, you'll see the Seder plate in the center of the table, presenting six symbolic foods: a shank bone that reminds Jews of the Pesach sacrifice; an apple, nut, and wine mixture called charoset; two types of bitter herbs; hard-boiled egg; and parsley, celery, or potato. "At times, the host, hostess, or Seder leader may distribute certain items from the Seder plate," says Schweitzer. "However, avoid taking items from the Seder plate or passing it unless instructed to do so."
Be ready to participate.
At a Passover Seder, the host or hostess may invite guests to read from the Haggadah (or Hagadot), "a Jewish booklet that describes the order of the Seder [and] is filled with food descriptions, songs, 15 specific rituals, and the Exodus story of how the Jewish people fled Egypt," says Schweitzer. One set of four questions is always read by the youngest guest so, says Schweitzer, whether that's you or not, "Bring your glasses along!"