Four Ways to Personalize Your Passover Seder
The ritual of the Passover Seder includes many consistent elements, but it also offers multiple opportunities for tweaking the celebration to suit your taste. "The term Seder actually means 'order' and has a generally prescribed framework of steps, so you might think there is little space for personalization," says Marcia Friedman, author of Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life ($27.95, amazon.com) and The Essential Jewish Cookbook ($17.99, amazon.com). "Wonderfully, it's quite the opposite. This widely observed Jewish holiday is also one of the most customizable."
Choose a version of the traditional text that fits your pod; serve favorite foods (or try new entrées); and use your best serving pieces to create a holiday celebration unique to your small group. "Personalizing the seder makes it more engaging, vivid, and memorable for everyone involved," says Friedman, "and that helps fulfill one of the most important purposes of the holiday—to re-live the experience of the Exodus as if we were there ourselves and to be grateful for freedom." Ahead, exactly how to do so.
Make a special Haggadah.
While using a Haggadah—a book that provides the steps for the Seder—is common, Friedman suggests choosing a format that speaks to your family. "There are Haggadahs that are very traditional, others that use humor and illustrations, and others that approach the service from different angles—for example feminism or vegetarianism," she says. Friedman and her family often design their own mix-and-match book online, printing their one-of-a-kind guides for guests, pre-pandemic. "We've done this for years, and while it takes a bit more effort, it creates a very personal and engaging experience," she says.
Upgrade your storytelling experience.
One key part of the Seder is the retelling of the story of Exodus, in which the Hebrews are freed from enslavement in Egypt; this is the story Passover is based on. "Some families do their own full re-enactments or assign that to children and grandchildren, which is a great way to get them involved," says Friedman. "We've had great fun using different tellings from Shoshana Hartman's Passover Parodies: Short Plays for the Seder Table ($15, amazon.com) with Shakespeare being a favorite; we assign different roles and even hand out simple costume pieces. It adds humor and perspective to the story and we find it energizes the night."
Customize your meal.
The Passover menu includes several can't-miss items: "Passover is the festival of matzah, so that is a must, and given their centrality to the service, so are the Seder plate and wine," says Friedman. "You do want to have symbolic foods for the Seder plate including a roasted egg, a roasted lamb shank bone, a bitter herb such as horseradish, a green vegetable such as parsley, sometimes lettuce, and haroset, a fruit and nut mixture. Where you really get to be creative here is with the haroset, because there are many variations across traditions."
But the rest of the meal allows plenty of creativity, too—as long as you make sure you don't include any leavened foods. "Some traditional Ashkenazi dishes include matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, brisket, tzimmes, kugels, macaroons, and more, whereas among Sephardi traditions, you might find huevos haminados, which are long-cooked eggs, poached fish in spicy sauce, matzah pie, artichokes prepared various ways, and sponge cake or walnut cake," says Friedman. "You can follow one tradition, mix and match, or go with something else entirely. One thing we do that is not traditional but always starts the night off festively is begin with a cocktail before everyone comes to the table—I've done chocolate martinis with kosher for Passover vodka and chocolate liqueur."
Set a unique table.
Get creative with a special table setting that includes sentimental items or your fanciest dishes. "There's a concept called Hiddur Mitzvah, which generally refers to steps we take to beautify and elevate celebrations and observances," says Friedman. "As an important and beloved holiday, Passover calls out for that—touches that make it truly special." Incorporate heirloom serving plates, fancy candlesticks, your grandmother's china, and your best linens. "To engage children, it's helpful to include fun items, such as puppets. Some kids might even enjoy making them as a pre-holiday craft project," says Friedman.