For observant Jews, a Passover seder is both a retelling and a reliving of their ancestors exodus from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Some people observe the seder twice, on the first two nights of Passover; others confine the ritual to the first night. In either case, participants follow the ceremony set forth in the Haggadah, a book that contains prayers, songs and the story of Passover.
- When it comes to inviting guests to your seder, the more the merrier. And if you spread the welcome mat to casual acquaintances, and even strangers - Jewish or not - you'll be honoring the passage in the Haggadah that says, "May all in need come and celebrate Passover with us." In this case, "need" refers to all kinds of need, including the need for friendship.
- The Passover seder plate includes the following items: a shank bone, a roasted egg, bitter herbs, salt water, a green vegetable and charoset. You can find seder food ideas and scrumptious recipes in the multitude of Jewish cookbooks on the shelves of your local bookstore.
- Orthodox, Conservative and Reform customs vary, and even within each tradition, every family maintains its own way of observing Passover.
- Light the festival candles, either at the start of the seder or earlier, just before sunset (either is correct). Recite two blessings over the candles as you light them.
- Bless the wine that all will drink during the seder, and then pour a cup for each guest and one for the prophet Elijah. After everyone has drunk the first cup, pour the second. (Each participant drinks four cups of wine at specified points in the service; Elijah's cup remains untouched throughout the seder.)
- Wash your hands, with no blessing, in preparation for eating the Karpas, which is a vegetable - usually parsley - dipped in salt water. The green vegetable symbolizes rebirth of spring; the salt water represents the tears shed by Jews in slavery.
- Break the middle one of the three matzohs on the table. Return half to the pile. The other half becomes the afikomen, the part hidden away for children to find later and consume at the end of dinner. The afikomen can also be ransomed back to the adults by the children for a prize.
- Tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Pesach (Passover). Begin by having the youngest child (or youngest adult if there are no children present) ask the traditional Four Questions. At the end of the story ("Maggid" in Hebrew) recite a blessing over the second cup of wine and drink it.
- Wash your hands, saying a blessing, in preparation for eating the matzoh. Then recite two blessings over the matzoh: one, the ha-motzi, is a generic blessing for grain products used as a meal; the other is a blessing specific to matzoh. Eat a bit of matzoh after saying the blessings.
- Recite a blessing over the maror, a bitter vegetable (usually raw horseradish) that symbolizes the bitterness of slavery. Dip the maror into charoset and eat it. Then make and eat a sandwich of another piece of maror and charoset between small pieces of matzoh.
- Eat a festive meal. Anything goes here - except, of course, chametz, the leavened foods forbidden during Passover. At the end, reward the children who find the afikomen and then eat the afikomen.
- Pour the third cup of wine, recite birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals), then bless and drink the wine. Pour a fourth cup of wine for everyone. Then have someone (a child if possible) open the door for the prophet Elijah, who is supposed to arrive on Pesach to herald the Messiah.
- Recite a series of psalms and a blessing over the last cup of wine and drink it.
- Close with a statement that the seder has been completed and a wish to celebrate next year's Pesach in Jerusalem (i.e., that the Messiah will come within the coming year).
Because of space constraints, this is a vastly oversimplified explanation of a seder. To learn more about this and the other traditions of Passover, see the recommended book, or visit the religion and spirituality section of your local bookstore.