The Passover Seder is the main event of Passover, a ritual-filled festive meal that is held in Jewish homes on the first (and outside of Israel also on the second) night of the holiday. During this meal, the story of the Jewish People’s liberation from slavery in Egypt is retold and relived by the whole family, through special ritual items just for Passover:
- The haggadah, which recounts the Passover story and has all the ritual steps of the Seder
- The Seder plate, containing the six symbolic foods that tell the story of Passover: a shank bone, egg, two types of bitter herbs, a spring vegetable, and charoset, a sweet fruit and nut paste
- Matzah, reminding us of how quickly the Israelites left Egypt, with its own special plate and covering
- The afikoman, a piece of matzah broken off to be eaten at the end of the meal, also with its own cover or afikoman bag
- Elijah’s cup, representing our hope that the Messiah and redemption will one day come
Other ritual items needed for the Passover Seder that you might have from other holiday or shabbat celebrations are:
- A kiddush cup and wine for sanctifying the holiday
- Washing cup and towels for ritual handwashing, known as netilat yadayim
You can get all the Passover ritual items you’ll need, and even Israeli-made kosher for Passover wine and charoset, right from our store! And don’t forget to check out our Seder Essentials Buying Guide and Top Passover Sets.
And now that you have everything you need, here’s an overview of the 14 steps of the Passover Seder itself:
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, unlike the common custom for other holidays, is recited sitting down instead of standing up.
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, to symbolize spring as well as the tears of our ancestors. It’s customary to use parsley sprigs, cooked potato, celery, or carrots and radishes. However, any vegetable is fine.
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 symbolizes 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 Ten Plagues, the splitting of the sea and Pharaoh’s frantic chase after his escaping slaves, and famous songs like the Mah Nishtanah, Dayenu, and others. Buckle up tight – this is the longest part of the night and requires a little more concentration than other stages.
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 or bitter vegetables: most people use either a few leaves of a bitter lettuce like Romaine or a forkful of grated horseradish, which is dipped in sweet charoset (a sweet, traditional Passover paste made from fruit and nuts) 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 Passover lamb sacrifice: together with matzah and maror, the sandwich represented the full Passover experience in one! Now, we just use bitter herbs and charoset on matzah to remind ourselves of that original Passover meal. Most people use a different type of bitter herb from the one used previously – such as horseradish instead of lettuce.
10. Shulchan Orech
You’ve finally arrived at the festive Pesach meal! It’s traditional in some communities 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, carrots cooked in a sweet sauce.
What it means: literally “dessert” in Aramaic
You will need: the afikoman, 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 (included in the haggadah, and also available in special Grace After Meals booklets called birkonim)
Jews traditionally 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: your haggadah
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 traditionally compulsory element of the Seder itself.
What it means: more songs of praise – with dancing, rejoicing, and silliness encouraged!
You will need: your haggadah
These are the fun songs beloved by kids and adults alike, such as Who Knows One and Had Gadya. Lots of families get creative with silly voices, sound effects, and even dancing, so feel free to get loose and have fun – after all, you’re finally done with the whole Passover Seder!