Passover is like the Oscars of Jewish holidays. It's the most distinguished, the one to prioritize if you're not fully committed to them all. So the dinner table setup is pretty important. On the first night of Passover, the marathon meal overflows with wine, symbolism, special foods, readings, storytelling, and fun for children. Whether you're new to hosting or need a refresher, you'll benefit from checking out our tips and suggestions. Make your tablescape reflect the illustrious occasion.
"It's custom to bring out your nicest, finest dishes for dinner. It's the most prestigious dinner of the year for Jews," says Chanie Nayman, editor in chief of Kosher.com, a site founded in December 2016 for kosher recipes and conversation.
The nine days of Passover celebrate the anniversary of Israel's exodus from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago. This year, it's April 10 to 18. The holiday begins after nightfall with the Seder, the ceremonial dinner served the first, and sometimes second, night of Passover. Check out all our videos, galleries, recipes, and articles on Passover food and entertaining.
The dinner script requires several props, according to Chabad.org:
- Four cups of wine (per person)
- Vegetables to be dipped in salt water
- Flat, dry, cracker-like bread called matzah
- Bitter herbs, often including horseradish; lettuce; a paste of nuts, apples, pears, and wine called charoset;
- Time-honored meal favorites, like chicken soup.
But first, dress the table in a white cloth, Nayman says. Candlesticks are customary too. At each table setting, place a saucer and a wine goblet or glass for red wine. "It's a commitment to having four glasses of wine with the four blessings on Seder night," Nayman says.
Designate a ramekin or monkey dish at each person's place setting to hold a single serving of vegetables — instead of one large serving plate of vegetables — next to an individual ramekin of salt water.
This is the time of year to bring out your Seder plate, the one with six sections on it for the different symbolic tastes: two bitter herbs (lettuce and grated horseradish); haroset/charoset (mix of apple, nuts, cinnamon, and wine, the color of the bricks Jews made while enslaved in Egypt); karpas (celery, parsley, and potato are three options); lamb shank bone; and a hard-boiled egg broiled a little for slight browning effect.
With all that wine, salty, bitter, sweet, and savory food, everyone will need to rehydrate. Set decanters that can hold two to three glasses of water along the table, in addition to filling a glass of water for each setting. "The water decanters add festivity to the table, dimension and texture, height," Nayman says. "It adds elegance to the table." To up that elegance further, place pillows at each person's seat, which symbolizes freedom because you're reclining like a king, not a slave.
On that note, celebrate your freedom to sway from tradition a little and try some avant garde decor. Show your own personality. Have fun. Find out more ways to mix up Passover.
Several aspects of the table can feature children's involvement. Place a large, elaborate goblet somewhere in the center of the table as the cup of Elijah, who children imagine comes through the front door after they open it, for a sip. Many of the 10 plagues sent by God to scare Pharaoh into letting the Israelites go involved animals, and that's represented in a more desirable way for your table décor. Spray little animal figurines in gold and silver spray paint and place them by every plate. Lastly, place a candy dish near the evening's leader, who can give candies to the children who ask good questions.
Buy a very low floral arrangement centerpiece so you can see people across the table. "Seder can be a long dinner, and you want to be able to have conversation, so we make sure to have clusters of flower vases like a runner down the table," Nayman says. Place flowers in fishbowls, square cocktail vases, and votives. Mason jars can be dressed up with lace ribbon and orchids or white hydrangeas.
No flowers are off-limits, so feast on whatever delights your senses. "In my family, we go for springy colors: yellows, purples, and pinks — really vibrant for spring. Or sometimes we go all white for a really fresh feel," Nayman says.
Now that you know how to dress your table, get tips on how to feed your family and friends with these Passover recipes.
— Head Photo: Kosher.com.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.