For those of us who aren’t Jewish, can you give us a quick explanation of what to expect at a Passover Seder?
The Passover Seder is a festive and fun meal in which we retell the story of the Exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt. It’s a traditional meal filled with rituals, from prayers and blessings to songs and symbols. We retell the story to keep ancient traditions alive and to celebrate our Jewish heritage. If you’ve never been to a Seder before, you’re in for a treat… it’s a fun holiday! There is a Seder plate at the table that includes several symbolic foods, including maror (bitter herbs, usually horseradish, a reminder of the bitterness of slavery), salt water (symbolizing the tears of the slaves), charoset (sweet paste made of fruit, nuts and sometimes wine, symbolizing the mortar the slaves used to build the Egyptian pyramids), zeroah (shank bone, representing the Passover sacrifice), beitzah (hard-boiled egg, symbolic of life and birth associated with the spring season), and karpas (a leafy green vegetable, usually a piece of lettuce, symbolizing hope and redemption). We taste many of the foods on the Seder plate as we say blessings at the beginning of the meal. We also drink four cups of wine throughout the Seder— or grape juice for the kidlets. For more information on the history of the holiday, I suggest checking out the Passover page on my site. There is lots of helpful information there.
How should I dress? (For a man and a woman.) Conservative? Colors?
There isn’t necessarily a set style of dress for Passover, although it’s always best to dress respectfully and somewhat conservatively. If you’re unsure what to wear, I’d suggest asking your host if they’re planning on hosting a formal or casual Seder.
What are the absolute no-no’s re: ingredients in recipes?
During the entire duration of the holiday, it is forbidden to eat leavened food products (such as bread, pasta, etc.). The reason is symbolic— in their haste to escape from Egypt, the Jews did not have enough time to wait for their bread to rise. Because of this, we eat unleavened matzo instead of bread and we forgo all leavened grains throughout the week-long holiday period. Depending on how strictly observant a family is or even where they are from regionally, there may be other dietary restrictions as well including legumes, seeds and certain spices. This is a more extensive list of what may and may not be eaten. You can also find Passover friendly recipes for various dietary and cultural holiday restrictions here.
How do you pace yourself throughout the meal/with the drinking?
Most Seders are large affairs with lots and lots of food to soak up the wine. When you see that four glasses of wine are consumed during the Seder, these are usually small glasses and not big merlot-sized glasses. Often sweeter kosher wines like Manischewitz are served, and their alcohol content tends to be on the lower end of the wine spectrum. However, it is always a good idea to pace yourself. If you don’t normally drink much or you don’t hold your liquor well, there is no shame in asking for grape juice instead, or starting with grape juice and graduating to wine later in the Seder after you’ve had plenty to eat.
What’s a good host/hostess gift?
A nice bottle of kosher wine is always a good choice. There are also several online markets that sell beautiful gift baskets filled with kosher for Passover goodies like chocolate covered matzah and macaroons. If there is a kosher market in your area I’m sure they will have some nice options. Keep in mind that if you’re thinking about bringing a food gift to a Seder, you’ll want to be extra careful to make sure that it is certified kosher for Passover. Many families clean their entire house before the Seder to get rid of all chametz (leavened and restricted food products), and won’t allow any of those foods back into the house until after the Seder. Some families are much less strict. If you’re at all unsure, best to bring a nice scented candle instead.
Thanks so much for answering my questions and providing these stunning photos, Tori! Be sure to check her website for more information; I’m already pouring through the recipe archives for the upcoming Seder I’m invited to – her Quinoa Avocado Tabbouleh (above) is definitely a possibility.
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