(My Jewish Learning) If you’ve never been to a Passover seder , you might be feeling a bit intimidated at the prospect. Relax. The seder is an opportunity for celebration, discussion and lots of tasty food. Here are some things to know before you go:
What should I wear?
People usually dress up a little for the seder, but it’s best to ask your host ahead of time, as seder attire can run the gamut from jeans and T-shirts to suit-and-tie. You’ll probably eat a lot, however, so don’t wear anything with a tight-fitting waist!
What should I bring?
Again, it’s best to ask the host ahead of time. If he or she requests food or wine, make sure to find out whether the family keeps kosher and how strictly they observe Passover dietary laws. Even if your host does not keep kosher, you should avoid bringing baked goods, like breads or cakes, as these flout the tradition of avoiding leavened foods, unless the products are labeled kosher-for-Passover. Flowers are always a good option as well.
Is there a prayer service before the meal?
The seder, which commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt (the first 15 chapters of Exodus), is a service of sorts, replete with various blessings, rituals, songs and readings. To get a better feel for what happens and in what order, we recommend you check out this article about the seder and this one about the Haggadah.
How long does the seder last?
Seder length varies even more than seder attire! Some families read every page of the Haggadah (the book that details all the Passover rituals, blessings and readings) along with all sorts of supplemental readings, while others do a very abbreviated version. Which means the seder can range from under 30 minutes (followed by a leisurely meal) to literally all night long. Traditionally, the seder has two parts: readings and rituals for before the meal is served, and readings and songs that follow the meal. However, many families – particularly those with small children – dispense with the second part and focus on the pre-meal rituals. You can ask your host to provide a ballpark estimate in advance.
What foods are usually served at a Passover seder?
Before the meal, a number of foods with ritual significance are eaten: a sprig of parsley (or other green) dipped in salt water; charoset, a fruit-and-nut paste that symbolizes the mortar slaves used to make bricks; horseradish or other spicy/bitter food to symbolize the bitterness of slavery; and a hard-boiled egg as a symbol of rebirth. Food at the meal itself varies a great deal, depending on whether your host is Ashkenazi (of Eastern European descent) or Sephardi (of Spanish or Middle Eastern descent). It also depends on your host’s own family traditions. That said, commonly served foods in the United States include gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzah balls, lamb, chicken and various kugels (a type of casserole). Some popular desserts are macaroons, chocolate-covered matzah, kosher-for-Passover cakes and fruit compote. If your host keeps kosher, no dairy will be served with or after meat.
Is it really true that you have to drink four cups of wine? I don’t want to get drunk and embarrass myself.
Traditionally people do drink four cups of wine over the course of the seder, but they do not have to be large cups of wine. Also, many hosts also have grape juice on hand, which is a perfectly acceptable substitute.