Passover is called Pesach in Hebrew. In 2023 (5783 on the Hebrew calendar), the first night of the holiday is Wednesday, April 5th. It’s a home-centered celebration that has it all: family and friends gather to re-tell an inspiring story, enjoy each other’s company, and spend an evening enjoying a multi-course dinner of wonderful food. This post is for those who might need help with Seder and Passover planning.
The meal, called a Seder, includes several rituals and specific foods. My general philosophy of life and food guide my Seder and Passover planning. I’ll make more food than we need, try to enjoy the process as well as the celebration itself, and be glad when there are leftovers.
If you’ve never made a seder and will host one this year, here are my suggestions for how to start the planning. The word seder means order, so my suggestions are in order too – starting with the most important one for your mental health.
If you’re not doing a seder, either because you are not Jewish or are invited to someone else’s seder, these hints – minus the traditional Passover foods tips – still work for party planning. And take a look at my meal preparation “rules” too, while you’re at it.
Tips for Seder and Passover Planning
- The Seder itself. Seder means order. Every seder I have been to uses a story “guide” called a haggadah, and a seder plate to keep the group focused on the story of Passover. What’s on the seder plate? A lamb shankbone (or a substitute), parsley, charoset, roasted egg, horseradish (root or prepared from jar), lettuce or celery.
- How to tell the story? Most people who celebrate use a haggadah (plural is haggadot.) In Hebrew, the word means “telling.” Haggadot range from coloring books for young kids to long detailed texts. If you want online resources, there are plenty of haggadot online and other pieces you can include in your Seder. For examples, check out this list of online haggadot.
- The meal. Many people have traditional Passover foods that they serve every year. We do. But we also vary the dishes depending on who is attending and their preferences. For example, I always have lots of charoset, preferably at least 3 kinds. My “go-to” recipes are this Ashkenazic one, this slightly spicy Sephardic-inspired version, and charoset balls that are also Sephardic-inspired. However, I have also been known to do Cuban-style charoset and a sugar-free version for a friend who can’t do processed sugar. I also always have Passover rolls and matzo kugel. But the main dishes can vary as do desserts. There are always healthy green vegetables.
- Consider alternatives to Passover ritual and traditional foods. If you don’t want a lamb shankbone on the seder plate or can’t find one, there are alternatives. For example, use a chicken neck bone or a roasted beet. Or let kids draw pictures of a shankbone. Gluten issues? Don’t despair. There is gluten free matzo (of course.) Nut allergies? Make charoset with dried fruit, juice, and seeds. Improvise even if your grandmother would have rolled her eyes. And don’t let anyone tell you “it’s not a seder if you don’t ….” Remember that if someone uses the words like “always” “never” or “have to” when it comes to Passover food, they forgot that when the Jews left Egypt, for 40 years they only had manna. That wasn’t exactly an appetizing meal for 1 day, let alone more than 14,560 days in the dessert. Whatever you’re serving will be just fine.
- Organize clean-up /storage of leftovers ahead of time. After the 4 cups of wine, several courses of delicious food, and hours around the table, you probably won’t feel much like cleaning up or fussing with leftovers. If you have put out containers and storage wrap, lined up extra trash bags and cleared the sink before the seder begins, you’ll be much happier when it ends.
General Rules for Celebrations & Parties
- Stay sane. Do whatever it takes to make the experience (including preparation) enjoyable, so you’ll want to do it again next year. My sanity ritual includes things that drive other family members insane – too bad. If you’re not helping me at the moment, get out of my way and definitely don’t judge me as I spend several days in sweatpants, playing my favorite Charles Aznavour album repeatedly and loudly, twirling my wooden spoon, as I cook and bake.
- Simplify where possible. Figure out what you can make ahead of time. Can you freeze desserts or soup? If so, I say do it. Graciously accept offers of help or food contributions if they will really ease your preparations, and don’t be afraid to be specific about what you need. If you have guests who don’t cook but are anxious to help, have them bring wine, flowers, or matzo. At our recent seders, the meat eaters have outnumbered the vegetarians and we’ve served both chicken and vegetable broth with matzo balls. If vegetarians predominates maybe just do vegetable broth and forgo the chicken soup.
- My mantra. Enjoy. If you’re sane and happy, everyone will be happier too.