Mazel Tov! You’ve been invited to a Passover seder. For many Jews (including me), Passover, or Pesach, which retells and celebrates the story of the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt, is a favorite holiday. At its heart is the seder, an intricate ritual and meal filled with songs, specialized food (don’t miss the matzo ball soup!), and Big Springtime Energy. Generally observed on the first and second nights of Passover, the seder is woven together with countless rules and a lot of audience participation—all part of the fun, but potentially intimidating for a newbie. If you are looking to impress your host and feel seder-ready this year, here are five tips to keep in mind.
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Do some light research
Doing a little reading ahead of time will allow you to understand more about the significance of Passover and what to expect at a seder. No need to spend hours at the library schooling yourself, but some basic knowledge will help you feel more confident in taking on an interactive role throughout. (Which you will be expected to do!)
Try everything (allergies permitting)
Leah Koenig, the author of six cookbooks, including The Jewish Cookbook and Modern Jewish Cooking, advises that the best thing you can bring is your interest. “Like with any meal where there might be new-to-you foods, arrive with an open mind and an adventurous spirit,” she says. “And if there is something that really doesn't look appetizing to you, it is totally okay to politely decline.”
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Whenever I have non-Jewish guests over, I try to coax them into trying the gefilte fish—a poached mixture of deboned and ground fish. In my experience, despite its appearance, most seafood-loving guests end up enjoying it. So slap some horseradish on that fish patty and take a bite. (Also, you will win major brownie points from Bubbe for trying this one.)
Ask all of your questions
Jews have been celebrating Passover for at least 3,000 years, which is to say it is a holiday rich with historical and family traditions. That being said, Koenig reminds us that “Passover is also a night dedicated to question-asking”—so no need to hold back. Her favorite way to connect with guests is via food. “The seder plate is my favorite Passover conversation starter,” Koenig says. “It is filled with foods meant to symbolize various aspects of the Passover story, so it offers a perfect jumping off point for table talk.” During the seder, feel free to share what aspects feel similar to your own traditions and which are new to you.
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Bring something holiday-appropriate
Passover brings with it many dietary restrictions, like avoiding leavened bread, so rather than accidentally bringing something off-limits, it’s probably better to just avoid edible gifts. “A bottle of great kosher wine (anything from Covenant Wines), though, is a safe bet, and particularly useful since it is customary to drink four glasses of wine during the Passover seder,” she says. Koenig also recommends “household gifts—like a pretty dish towel, a cookbook, or a puzzle (particularly this Jewish foods puzzle).”
Whenever I’m attending Passover, a spring-centric holiday, I lean into seasonality for a host gift. A floral arrangement or small potted plant, like a succulent, is a simple idea that the host may even include in the décor for the evening.
Be prepared to participate
During the seder, the story of Passover is told through readings, songs, prayers, drinking wine, and eating specific foods. And it is customary for everyone seated at the Passover table (yes, even the non-Jews) to participate in the rituals. While it can feel overwhelming, or even a little embarrassing, to read out loud and sing new songs, Koenig recommends attempting anything thrown your way during the night. “Have all the fun! Drink all the wine! (Or don't—you do you.) Sing all the songs (off-key is fine)!” she says.
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And in my experience, children and all invited adult guests are encouraged to find the afikomen, which is a special matzo that is hidden during seder. Feel free to win against the kids, it’s all in good fun. Koenig’s final word of advice: “Passover is an incredibly engaging and interactive holiday—if you bring your curiosity, you are destined to have a great time.”
Matzo ball time: