If you are hosting your first Passover seder, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. You might be having 30 friends and family members heading over to celebrate the holiday with you, and you want to host a traditional, well put-together dinner that shows that you understand all of the important Passover traditions and are about to coordinate a meal that combines rituals, prayers, ceremonial food as well as food to be eaten that follows certain rules and standards.
On top of everything, you want to be proud of everything on your table, from the food to the centerpieces. And you want to do it all without breaking the bank or completely stressing yourself out.
Here are a few tips to help you successfully, happily and smoothly host your first seder.
1. Getting Work Done in Advance Pays Off
If you follow these tips for stress-free menu, you will start cooking two to three days in advance, and have very little to do on the day itself. There are few dishes that don’t last, let alone improve, with some time to rest: brisket tastes better two and three days later. The same goes for chicken soup. Charoset, if it needs refrigeration at all, need only be brought to room temperature.
You can save time by cooking dishes together.
Instead of trying to scorch a hard boiled egg over a gas flame, as some suggest, put it in the same small roasting pan as the shank, with a little bit of olive oil. You can even do this in a toaster over set at 325-degrees (don’t go much higher or the egg can explode. Turn it over once or twice. Remove both when nicely browned.
2. Make Your Own Simple & Elegant Centerpieces
Rather than overspending on large, store-bought centerpieces, make your own using small vases that you have around the house and a few flowers. Instead of decorating your table with large, elaborate bouquets, it is just as elegant to have several smaller vases with flowers harvested from your own garden. The arrangements do not need to be the same; use whatever you have available to you for a unique display that your guests will enjoy.
3. Instead Of Using a Traditional Haggadah, Try An Edited Online Version
It may seem wrong to some — and perfectly acceptable to others — to opt for an edited online version of the Haggadah rather than the traditional one. However, if you choose to use an edited Haggadah found online that you can print yourself and present nicely, rolled like a scroll, you might find yourself ahead of the game.
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein has developed the world’s “shortest Haggadah” that can be done in 10 minutes for those with young children or restless guests. He says everything that “must be done or said” is covered. The abridged Haggadah even includes some traditional favorites such as “Dayenu.”
The shortest Haggadah is ideal for a more personalized and participatory Seder. Simply download the Haggadah, print it in nice paper, roll it up like a scroll, tie it with a piece of ribbon and you are all set. The “shortest Haggadah” can be downloaded here.
4. Put Together Individual Seder Plates
Save yourself time and a lot of work by putting together individual seder plates. There should be one, central, ceremonial plate with the roast egg and shank bone, and that plate stays where it is. Make multiple, smaller seder plates that can be passed around among your guests within a small area for dipping and sharing. This is much more convenient than passing around a large, ornamental platter amont 20 guests or more.
5. Hold The Attention of Your Younger Guests with Plague Kits
The 10 Biblical plagues are perhaps the darkest, and one of the most important aspects of the Story of Passover. A problem you may encounter is holding the attention of your younger guests and not scaring them too much. A good way to get kids to continue paying attention and even interested in the story is by purchasing (or putting together your own) plague kit. It might sound morbid, but it works.
A sure way to keep children’s attention during the telling of the Exodus story is to include novelty plague kits at each child’s place setting. These kits have plastic frogs and farm animals, and other toys representing each of the plagues brought down upon the Egyptians — and can be held up and waved around at the right moments. Even older guests have been known to enjoy plague kits. You can purchase a plague kit here.