What is a Passover Seder?

The centerpiece of Passover is the Seder, observed on the first or first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a service held in the home and a 15-step ritual that includes the retelling of the story of Exodus, blessings, prayers and an elaborate dinner. Observers recite from the Haggadah, a liturgy used to lead participants through the service.

The Seder plate holds different food items, each of which symbolize a part of Passover. Karpas is a vegetable (often parsley or celery) dipped in salt water to represent the tears of the slaves in Egypt. Maror is a bitter herb symbolizing the bitterness of slavery. Charoset is a mixture of apples, nuts and cinnamon that represents the mortar the Jews used on bricks to build the pyramids of Egypt while they were enslaved. The matzoh is a hard, unleavened bread, like a cracker, that reminds observers that the Jews left in such a hurry they did not have time to let their bread rise. Also included on the plate are a roasted shank bone, symbolizing sacrifice and/or the lamb’s blood used to mark the doors so the killing plague would pass over certain houses, and a boiled egg, which symbolizes fertility.

Another important part of Passover is the Mah Nishtana, meaning “Why this night?” This question, asking why this night is chosen to remember, is the preamble to The Four Questions, a prayer said by the youngest person at the Seder.