How to Prepare for the Passover Seder Meal—Including the Seder Plate

Time to stock up on matzah!

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It’s time to start preparing for Passover! The Jewish holiday, which honors the Biblical story of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt, typically occurs at the start of spring. This year, the eight-day holiday begins at sundown on April 5, and ends on the night of April 13. 

Curious to learn more about the history of Passover, including the significance of each item on the Seder meal plate? Continue reading for more details.

What Is Passover?

Passover commemorates the Israelites' freedom from slavery in Egypt, as told in the Book of Exodus, and is celebrated today by Jewish people around the world. For the duration of Passover, practicing Jews are forbidden from eating bread and bread products, as well as grains that can ferment and become leavened. This includes wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye, which means dishes like pasta and most cereals are also off limits.

While customs and traditions vary across the globe, Passover typically includes two Seders, (one on each of the first two nights) which are large, ceremonial dinners often shared with family and friends. For many, the Seder is the most important part of the holiday. This celebratory feast features a bevy of symbolic dishes and important rituals, and is guided by the Haggadah—a special text that is read over the course of the Seder that tells the story of the exodus from Egypt.

The Seder begins after sundown on the night before the first official day of Passover, and includes customs such as drinking four cups of wine, eating matzah, reclining throughout the meal, and reciting The Four Questions. The Seder plate, which has designated portions for the five different symbolic foods discussed during the Passover Seder, is often prominently displayed on the holiday table.

What’s on the Passover Seder Plate?

The Passover Seder plate is typically the focal point of the Passover table, and is referred to often over the course of the meal. Each of the five foods symbolizes something that relates to the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Here’s what you’ll need for your Seder plate:

  1. Maror - Bitter herbs, which symbolize the bitterness of the slavery that the Jews endured in Egypt. To represent maror, many people use grated horseradish or a whole horseradish root.
  2. Charoset - A sweet, brown paste-like mixture that represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build structures in Egypt. While recipes for charoset do vary, it typically includes some combination of apples, nuts, red wine, and spices. Dates and raisins are other common charoset ingredients.
  3. Karpas - A leafy vegetable, often parsley or celery, that is a symbol of spring and hope. It is dipped in liquid (typically salt water) at the beginning of the Seder.
  4. Zeroa - A roasted lamb bone that represents the special Paschal sacrifice on the eve of the exodus from Egypt.
  5. Beitzah - A hard-boiled egg that symbolizes the temple sacrifice and rebirth.

You will also need a bowl of salt water that guests can dip their karpas into, which symbolizes the tears of the enslaved Jews, as well as an extra glass of wine for Elijah—a prophet who visits each Seder dinner. 

Lastly, it’s also customary to place three pieces of matzah on a plate near the Seder plate, and cover it with a cloth or napkin. Some of the matzah will be eaten during the meal, but the leader of the Seder also breaks the middle piece in half and hides the larger portion (called the afikomen) for children to find. The child who finds the afikomen is typically given some money or a small gift as a reward.

Passover Recipes

When it comes to cooking for Passover there are traditional holiday dishes such as gefilte fish and the aforementioned charoset, but the Passover table can also include classic foods like roasted chicken and brisket. Just remember that whatever you cook for Passover must not include any bread made with yeast, or bread products. This goes for Passover dinner and dessert.

For some recipe inspo, check out our roundup of Passover Seder dishes, as well as our collection of Passover desserts!

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