5 Etiquette Tips Every Guest Should Know at a Passover Seder

What to know before you matzo.

Passover Spread
Photo: Vlad Fishman/Getty Images

Every spring, Jewish people celebrate their ancestors liberating themselves from slavery in Egypt by observing a holiday called Passover. Over a special meal known as the Passover Seder, loved ones gather around the table to honor the occasion. It's the one Jewish holiday where the service actually takes place around the family table and not in the formal setting of a temple or a synagogue. Whether you're Jewish and looking for a refresher or not of the faith but attending a Seder, here are five tips for being a great guest from Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette and modern manners expert, who is founder of the firm Access to Culture,

1. Bring a Kosher hostess gift.

As Southerners, you're likely already planning on bringing a present for your host, but here are a few guidelines to keep in mind: "Always bring a small gift to express appreciation for the hospitality. However, make sure you bring something that is 'Kosher for Passover,'" advises Schweitzer. "There's a difference between just kosher and kosher for Passover. Make sure to avoid offering any gift with yeast or wheat or any food prepared in dishes or with utensils used for unleavened food. A fruit tray, kosher wine, pre-arranged flowers, or a Passover book are culturally appropriate."

2. You may want to have a big snack before you arrive.

Nobody wants a cranky guest at the Passover table. If you're bringing kids along, make sure they have a bite before making it to your host's house, too. "Have a small bite of protein before you arrive, as Seder kicks off with a litany of prayers and blessings before the main dishes are served," suggests Schweitzer.

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3. Don't touch the Seder plate.

"The Seder plate is a special dish that sits in the middle of the table and holds some very symbolic items from more than 2,000 years ago such as parsley, bitter herbs, a shank bone, a hard-boiled egg, matzah, and charoset [a paste of fruit and nuts served at Seders]," shares Schweitzer. "At times, the person leading the Seder may distribute certain items from the Seder plate, but avoid taking on your own from the Seder plate unless instructed to do so."

4. Be ready to read from the Haggadah if called on.

So bring your reading glasses, if needed. "The Haggadah, a Jewish booklet that describes the order of the Seder, is filled with food descriptions, songs, 15 specific rituals and the Exodus story of how the Jewish people fled Egypt," explains Schweitzer. "Guests may be asked to read passages from the Haggadah. If you don't speak Hebrew, don't worry; there's usually an English translation which is appropriate to read as well."

5. Pace yourself with the wine, or ask for grape juice.

"Throughout the course of the Seder, you will be given four glasses of wine. Each glass is symbolic of the Jew's freedom from four exiles: The Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek exiles and current exile," shares Schweitzer. Thus, you probably don't want to have a drink before the Seder begins or request spirits or beer at the table. Also, beer, and any spirit made from grain is not kosher for Passover. If you're not drinking for any reason or under the age of 21, request grape juice.

Happy Pesach! (If you want to impress your host, you can even try saying "chag sameach" — pronounced Khahg sah-MEY-akh — which means "happy festival" or "happy holidays.")

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