The snow has melted, the birds are chirping, the buds are blooming鈥 finally, spring is upon us. That means Passover is almost here too (beginning this Friday, people!), and now鈥檚 the time to start planning the Seder dinner. Even though Seders are traditional, there are still many ways families are putting modern twists on the feast. With so many steps and so much storytelling, it鈥檚 an excellent opportunity to mix old and new traditions that will get everyone involved. We had a chat with Ronya Gordon, the Special Events and Rental Coordinator at the Jewish Museum in New York City, and she鈥檚 given us some of her personal party tips for hosting a memorable modern Seder at home.

Seder Tablescape

Understanding the Major Themes of Passover

Many Passover traditions have come and gone over the centuries, but at its heart it always comes down to themes from the Book of Exodus: the history of the people of Israel, liberation and rebirth. For example, the entire family gets involved in the story during the reading of the Haggadah. 鈥淓very family does things a bit differently,鈥 says Ronya, 鈥渂ut they agree that engagement of every generation is certainly key.鈥 Salt water and bitter herbs during the Seder symbolize the anguish of slavery. And since rebirth and springtime go hand in hand, Ronya suggests any dishes made with eggs as a simple way to symbolize spring and the circular nature of the year. (Photo via Taste with the Eyes)


Getting the Kids Involved

From songs to reenactments to games, there are so many opportunities for youngins to get involved. 鈥淏ecause the Seder is based on storytelling and asking questions, it is right up every kid鈥檚 alley,鈥 says Ronya. The youngest member really gets the ball rolling by singing four questions, called the ma nishtana, which help explain the features of the meal. Of course there is the story of the ten plagues 鈥 鈥淲hat kid doesn鈥檛 love a fake locust to leave on their aunt鈥檚 dinner plate?鈥 says Ronya. Another kid-friendly tradition is the hunt for the afikoman, a piece of matzah that is hidden at the beginning of the Seder. The meal can鈥檛 be finished until it鈥檚 found, so Ronya knows lots of children who use that knowledge as leverage for an extra treat ;)

Seder Elijah Cup

Decorating the Table

Ronya suggests making room for more than one Seder plate if you can, because not only does it display the ritual foods, it can also be a work of art and is a great way of keeping all guests involved. Usually a cup of wine is displayed for the prophet Elijah, but a new tradition in many families is a second cup filled with water for Miriam, Moses鈥 sister. We love this colorful and kid-friendly DIY for a project the entire family would enjoy. Lastly, don鈥檛 forget the flowers, or even edible flowers, for that extra dose of springtime symbolism. (Photo via Tori Avey)


Cooking Up a Kosher Seder for Foodies

鈥淪ome classics like matzoh ball soup and brisket are usually best left to Grandma鈥檚 recipe,鈥 Ronya concedes, but she says you should definitely get inventive with the rest. Good news for quinoa lovers: It may be a grain, but it鈥檚 not chametz, which means it doesn鈥檛 rise and can be eaten during Passover. Make sure you find your favorite recipe for charoset, the sweet paste made of apples and sweet wine with nuts or dates 鈥 even Ben and Jerry鈥檚 has a flavor in Israel! (Photo via The Kitchn)

Seder Plate

Attending Your First Seder

Whether you鈥檙e hosting non-practicing guests or you鈥檝e been invited to your very first Passover dinner, Ronya says there鈥檚 no need to worry: 鈥淏ecause the Seder is all about asking questions and discussing pretty universal ideas of slavery, freedom and continuity, there are a lot of ways to engage people who are not familiar with the structure. See an unfamiliar food? Ask! Don鈥檛 understand why people are dipping their pinky in their wine glass and making dots along the side of their plate? Find out!鈥 Oh, and don鈥檛 feel the need to bring any food at all, especially not cake or bread.

Brit Dinner Party

Starting Your Own Traditions

For some families, Seder means reading from the full Haggadah in Hebrew, while others may pick and choose their favorite passages in the English translations. Some editions of the Haggadah include prayers for remembering the Holocaust, and others encourage kids to relate the story of the Israelites to their modern lives. But overall, Ronya reminds us that the dinner is mainly a celebration. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a holiday where a lot of families and friends will gather together for a meal, which usually leads to a lot of joy and a general sense of togetherness. Everyone has different ideas of what鈥檚 important. When something works well, it quickly becomes a family tradition.鈥

What are your Seder traditions? Share your family鈥檚 favorites, then be sure to check out the Jewish Museum鈥檚 upcoming Passover events!