Invited To Your First Passover Seder? Here's What You Should Bring

Before you head to the store, you need to know this.

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Passover is one of many holidays when it's all about tables laden with food, wine, and a lot of exuberant conversation and laughter. But the difference between a Passover Seder and a dinner celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas is the very specific dietary considerations that have to be kept in mind.

Passover is a holiday with a certain run of show, and it is important to stick to it. People ask questions and tell stories, all in accordance with tradition. The stories that are told are the same that are shared generation after generation at a traditional Jewish family Seder, and the food that is enjoyed is paced to be eaten at different intervals of the dinner. At the center of the activity is the Seder Plate, which is like an old-school tasting menu of Passover fare.

If you are invited to a Passover Seder, it’s going to be an exciting experience, but it's also perhaps a bit intimidating. It's true that it can be a little complicated because every Jewish family has its own level of observance. There are a lot of ingredient restrictions for the holiday, from avoiding leavened bread to traditional Kosher guidelines, like not mixing milk and meat and avoiding pork or shellfish. But Passover is its own degree of Kosher, as even foods that are traditionally kosher—say, a box of candy—are not kosher unless it has a specific mark on it designating it as kosher for Passover.

It's also important to remember that the Seder has a very specific structure, and that is going to be observed each year. Traditional families will not detour much from this structure.

"The Seder has many traditions that revolve around food and wine," said Tal Baum, founder and proprietor of Atlanta’s Oliva Restaurant Group, "Before the meal starts, families gather around the table to read the story of Passover. During the reading, families eat different traditional foods that symbolize the message of the story. It's all about freedom and liberation. Each family has its own traditional recipes and, of course, the main rule is you are not supposed to eat any levant foods like bread, pasta and cakes."

What To Bring to a Passover Seder as a Guest

If you do plan to bring a food gift for Passover, it's OK to ask questions before arriving to better understand what the family will allow or not allow in their home. While some families are less observant, others are strict.

An observant family will want to ensure that there's a Kosher for Passover (or K for P) mark on the packaging. This signifies that the products are made without chametz (this is anything that involves wheat, rye, oats, most flours, or oats), and it’s important to remember these things are in a lot of foods and drinks we enjoy—say, beer, bread, or pasta.

But even if a family does not keep kosher, you may want to avoid bringing food to their home on Passover.

Why food may not be the gift you want to bring

So, what should you bring as a guest to this rather unique experience? It may be a good idea to stay away from anything edible. Even if you try to use the right ingredients, anything cooked or prepared in a non-kosher home is technically not kosher, and that distinction will matter to an observant family.

Many Jewish families undergo a rigorous process of preparing their own homes for Passover, which includes removal of any non-Passover food items and even the changing of dishes and silverware, so that during Passover we never use dinnerware or even glassware that has touched chametz.

That’s why it’s so important to be diligent in what you bring into a Jewish home during the holidays. The last thing you want to do is ruin their holiday by undoing all that hard work.

Can I bring wine to a Seder?

A better bet is to bring wine. Wine is a big part of the Passover seder experience, as participants in the cultural and culinary tradition are expected to enjoy at least four glasses of wine during the reading of the Haggadah, the traditional storybook of Passover. That makes wine a safe bet, but you’ll want to make sure it is wine specifically marked as Kosher for Passover.

Most liquor and wine stores will have a kosher wine section, but if not, websites such as sell it, and it can be delivered in time for the holidays.

Non-food gifts for a Seder

Non-wine or food gifts exist, too, of course, and a gift such as flowers or some sort of more traditional host gifts—think Passover-themed cookbook, flowers, or a seder plate—can be an incredibly thoughtful way to go.

Then, have fun. Passover Seders tend to last hours and involve a lot of wine, so get comfortable, stay hydrated, and come with an open mind—and an empty stomach!

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