Monday, September 15, 2014 Elul 20, 5774
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Seder Host Panic!

Sunday, April 13, 2014
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Dear Miriam,

I'm hosting my own seder for the first time tomorrow. I thought I was ready, but now that it's less than 24 hours away, I'm panicking. Any last minute tips?

Signed,
Seder Host Panic


Dear Panic,

Take a deep breath, you're going to be fine! Sure, there are some essentials you need. Beyond that, seder is designed to be an experiential meal full of questions, discussion, wine and good company. If you have those things, everything else will run itself. Well, almost. Here are a few last-minute tips to get you through.

1. Food and drink: You need grape beverage, and a lot of it (you know, four cups per person). You can use grape juice (red, white, sparkling, blush, whatever) or the traditional Manischewitz or some nicer kosher wine you'll probably have to go to New Jersey to purchase that no one will appreciate by the end of the night anyway. I usually opt for a variety for the pleasure of having choices. That way, you can appeal to guests' different tastes and not spend a million bucks on one particular wine that might not even turn out to be that great. By cup number four, I'm usually on grape juice, so I like to  have enough of that around.

Then there's dinner. It's, you know, dinner, but Passover food. You can go totally traditional and have chicken, kugel and matzah ball soup, or you can make whatever you want to eat that feels festive. Passover desserts are kind of a bummer, but you can remind your guests that the afikomen is the "real dessert." Actually, since your seder is so soon, you really better have this part of the night somewhat planned. It makes me too nervous to think that you might not, so I'll move on. 

2. Setting the table: You need to have all the ritual items on the seder plate. Roasting an egg is a pain in the tush, so if you end up using a non-roasted egg, your seder will still be legit. Charoset is delicious and there are lots of ways to make it that are all equally yummy and mortar-like. You have several choices for karpas. I prefer parsley. The inclusion of both "maror" and "hazaret" is totally confusing. Go with horseradish and romaine lettuce, and everyone will be happy (or, perhaps, sad with the bitterness of slavery). A bone (or, at a vegetarian seder, a "bloody" beet) will complete your seder plate. You also need salt water, Elijah's cup (filled with wine), Miriam's cup (if that's your thing, filled with water), plenty of matzah and a kiddush cup for each guest. The more I write, the more I'm panicking that I'm forgetting something. Thanks a lot.

3. Setting the scene: You need Haggadahs. Everyone can have the same one, everyone can have a different one, people can share, you can print out interesting readings, you can ask people to bring new interpretations. The options are endless. Decide in advance (like, right now!) how you want to frame the evening for your guests and how much participation you want to encourage. Then open your books and start reading (or browsing, or discussing). The seder is really handy in that it's a whole bunch of steps you have to do and several key mileposts that will likely be familiar to some of those in attendance. While it's true that each step gets you a little closer to dinner, try to take time along the way to have the full seder experience which, for me at least, includes being really hungry, a little bit drunk/cranky, totally impatient, and enthralled by fascinating new ideas all at the same time. I also really encourage you to get back to the Haggadah after dinner, since that's when you open the door for Elijah, drink two more cups of wine and sing Hallel and a bunch of other great songs. 

However it goes, try to enjoy the evening and make it a memorable one for your guests. Eat, drink, be merry and celebrate our really awesome gift of freedom.

Be well, and Chag Sameach!
Miriam

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