Monday, April 10, marks the beginning of Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. If you are unfamiliar with Passover traditions, you may be asking what goes on a Seder plate — especially if you’ve been invited to your first Seder this year (which will be held on April 10 and 11, fyi). A traditional feast to celebrate the start of Passover, the Seder brings together a variety of foods and beverages, all with their own symbolism and history.
Friends and family gather for the Seder, usually with one person selected as the leader. Together, you’ll read from the Haggadah, the book that explains the order of the Seder, gives the meaning of the foods on the Seder plate, and tells the story of the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom. (“Haggadah,” in fact, means “the telling.”) In addition to the foods on the Seder plate, you’ll drink four cups of wine (in honor of the four expressions of redemption in Exodus 6:6-7) and eat plenty of matzo. (According to tradition, throughout Passover, Jewish people give up baked goods that rise and eat matzo instead. Why? The story goes that when the Israelites’ fled Egypt, they left so quickly that they didn’t have time to bake normal bread. Instead, they made hard, flat unleavened bread— matzo.)
The Seder plate is a large, often elaborately decorated dish at the center of the table. Usually it will have six indentations, bowls, or circles on it, one for each of six traditional foods that help to tell the story of the Jewish people.
Different traditions might use slightly different foods, but here’s what you're likely to find on it:
1. Horseradish (Maror)
“Maror” refers to a bitter herb; horseradish is commonly used. The bitterness of the herb is meant to symbolize the bitterness of slavery.
2. Lettuce (Chazeret)
Chazeret is a second bitter herb (usually lettuce), again used to symbolize the bitterness of life as slaves in Egypt.
3. Roasted (or hard-boiled) egg (Beitzah)
The egg represents a sacrifice made during festivals in biblical times. It is also a symbol of spring and the circle of life.
4. Parsley (Karpas)
Parsley represents the early good fortune of the Israelites in Egypt. Before eating, the herb is dipped in salt water to symbolize the tears of the slaves.
5. A shank bone (Zeroa)
The shank bone (usually from a lamb) represents the lamb that Jewish people in biblical times would bring as a sacrifice for the Passover festival.
Charoset is a combination of apples, nuts, and spices, mixed into a paste to symbolize the mortar that Hebrew slaves used in the construction of Egyptian buildings and other edifices.
Chag Sameach! (Happy festival!)