Guide to the Seder

Seder plate

With just days left until Passover, it’s time to make sure you know your way around the Seder. After all, it comes complete with unique rituals, interesting foods, and its own book, making it one of the most important and exciting nights in the Jewish calendar! Here’s your complete guide to the Seder:


What it means: Kiddush (sanctifying wine)
You will need:
Kiddush cups or wine glasses, wine or grape juice
Like all Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, the Seder starts with Kiddush. This is also the first of the four cups of wine which will be drunk throughout the night. The Kiddush prayer has a special text and, contrary to popular custom, is recited sitting down instead of standing up.


What it means: washing
You will need:
washing cup, water, towel
According to most customs, the person leading the Seder washes their hands ritually, as if to eat bread, but without the blessing normally recited with hand-washing. If you’re at a communal Seder or don’t have a set “leader”, everyone can wash their hands.


What it means: vegetables!
You will need: small portions of vegetables, salt water
This is one of two occasions at Seder night where “dipping” happens: a small portion of vegetable is dipped into salt water and eaten, both to symbolise the spring and the tears of our ancestors. It’s customary to use parsley sprigs, cooked potato, or carrots and radishes. However, any food that usually gets the blessing over food from the ground qualifies, so if you particularly enjoy salty strawberries….


What it means: breaking the middle matzah
You will need: three whole matzahs
As well as salt water and the Seder plate, the Seder table includes three matzahs. During Yachatz, the person leading the Seder breaks the middle matzah, with a declaration of freedom. It symbolises the poverty our ancestors experienced: the larger part of this broken portion is “hidden” for consumption later. This larger piece is called the afikoman.


What it means: story time!
You will need: your Haggadah
This is the part of the night where we retell the story of our forefathers’ exodus from Egypt and slavery. It includes a description of their suffering, the wonders of the Ten Plagues, the splitting of the sea and Pharaoh’s frantic chase after his escaping slaves, and infamous songs like the Mah Nishtanah, Dayeinu, and others. Buckle up tight – this is the longest part of the night and requires a little more concentration than other starges.


What it means: washing hands
You will need: washing cup, water, towels
Everyone at the Seder washes their hands ready to eat bread (erm, matzah). What makes Seder night different is that no-one washes their own hands: reminiscent of kings and queens of time gone by, someone else washes your hands. Remember, it’s ritual – splash water from the washing cup on each hand three times, then dry and recite the blessing.


What it means: crunch-fest
You will need: matzah
The blessing usually said over bread is recited, and everyone eats a portion of matzah. Yum.


What it means: bitter vegetables
You will need: bitter vegetables, charoset for dipping
Eat a portion of maror: most people use either a few bitter leaves or a forkful of grated horseradish, which is dipped in sweet charoset (traditional Passover paste made from apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon) to lesson the eye-watering blow.


What it means: Hillel sandwich
You will need: matzah, maror, and charoset
In Temple times, the Hillel sandwich included a slab of roasted meat from the Pascal lamb: together with matzah and maror, the sandwich represented the full Passover experience in one! Now, we just use maror and charoset on matzah to symbolise the original Passovers. Most people use a different type of maror from the one used previously – such as horseradish instead of lettuce.

Shulchan Orech

What it means: fooooood!!
You will need: as above
You’ve finally arrived at the festive Pesach meal! It’s traditional to start the meal with a hard-boiled egg served in salt water; this represents the destroyed Temples submerged in our tears. Follow with feel-good festival food: classics include matzah ball soup and other traditional dishes like tzimmes, made from carrots cooked in a sweet sauce.


What it means: literally “dessert” in Aramaic
You will need: the larger half of your broken matzah from the Yachatz stage in the Seder
The larger part of the broken middle matzah from earlier is divided up between participants and eaten. It must be eaten by Jewish midnight (the middle of the night based on lunar hours, instead of the traditional solar clock) and is the last thing eaten during the night.


What it means: literally “blessing” – Grace After Meals
You will need: the text for the Grace After Meals
Jews end every meal containing bread – or matzah – with the Grace After Meals blessings, which thank God for our food and the land in which is was grown. The Seder is no exception: the last morsels of matzah eaten are followed by these blessings.


What it means: songs of praise
You will need: the text for the full Hallel service
Hallel is a collection of psalms and prayers recited on different Jewish holidays as an additional means of praising God and thanking Him for all the blessings in our lives. Although some also recite Hallel in Synagogue on Passover night before the Seder, it is still a compulsory element of the service.


What it means: more songs of praise – with silly voices
You will need: text for songs found only in Haggadah
All I can say on this one is, if you’ve made it through Seder night and four glasses of wine and don’t add your own phrases ending with “oo” to Adir Hu, have silly actions for the iconic Who Knows One song, or sing Chad Gadya with a complete range of sound effects, you’ve done Seder wrong.