How to Set a Table for Passover Seder

What to place where for the ritual meal

matzo cracker on plate with knife and fork

Vlad Fishman / Getty Images

Setting a proper table can be hard to get right under normal circumstances, but special occasions like religious holidays can be trickier. The Passover Seder is more than a festive meal; it is a journey back in history, a reaffirmation of Jewish identity, and a passing of Jewish traditions on to the next generation. Participants will spend many hours at the table, retelling the story of the Exodus, following a prescribed set of prayers, and eating symbolic foods—and there are several items that play an important part in this ritual, all of which need to be properly placed on the holiday table. From the ceremonial book called a Haggadah, to the Seder plate, to what you need for each place setting, learn how to set a beautiful Passover table that will accurately follow the holiday's customs.

A Haggadah for Each Guest

The Passover Seder includes the fulfillment of a scriptural commandment for the Jews to "tell your sons" about the liberation of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. This story is relayed in what is called a Haggadah—a book that is set beside each place setting so that each attendant can participate and follow along. There are many different versions of Haggadahs that you can purchase for your Seder, from very formal to more kid- and user-friendly. 

The Seder Plate

Taking center stage at the table is the Seder plate, a special platter with six designated spots for the ceremonial foods that represent the Jews' experience of being enslaved and their Exodus from Egypt. The Seder plate can be anything from a special dish that has been passed down to a simple plastic version; the most important thing is that it has spaces for each of the six foods referred to in the Haggadah.

Three Pieces of Matzo

Close to the table setting for the Seder leader should be a plate with three ceremonial pieces of matzah. Each piece should be tucked into a special cloth "envelope" with three sections; if you don't own one of these, you can layer the matzo in a napkin folded to create three sections. There are moments in the Haggadah where we are directed to use these pieces of matzo.

Glasses of Wine

Wine plays an important part of the Seder; the Haggadah directs us to drink four glasses of wine over the course of the service. Therefore, each guest needs a wine glass, and bottles of wine should be available on the table. Grape or apple juice can be used for the children.

A Cup for Elijah

An important part of Passover Seder is when the family opens the front door and invites the prophet, Elijah, in. It is seen as a sign of trusting in God's protection. There was a question in the Talmud about whether four or five cups of wine should be poured during the seder. To solve this problem it was decided that a fifth cup would be poured but not drank. This glass of wine is said to be set aside for the Prophet Elijah. Place an empty wine glass, considered Elijah's cup, in the middle of the table and when you reach this part in the Haggadah, fill the glass with wine for the prophet.

The Table Setting

Like any gathering you host, you can dress the table as you like. Covering the table with a cloth not only provides a nice touch but also makes moving the many items around the table easier; festive napkins are also a nice touch. And since Passover is a sign of spring, a centerpiece of flowers is appropriate and will make for a pretty table. Lighting the festive holiday candles is part of the Seder ritual, so make sure to place two candlesticks with candles on the table. (Keeping a lighter or matches nearby is also a good idea.)

There are several courses to a Seder meal, so each place setting needs to have the necessary flatware and plates. If you are serving soup, then gefilte fish, and then the main course, make sure to have the proper forks, knives, and spoons, as well as dishes, at each setting. Soup spoons can be next to the place settings, but it is best to keep soup bowls in the kitchen. Add a water glass, a wine glass, and a Haggadah at each place.

Additional Small Bowls

During the Seder, you will be directed to dip greens into saltwater and eat some of the foods from the Seder plate. If you have a large number of guests, it will be easier if there are extra small bowls of the necessary foods on the table. Place dishes of saltwater, charoset, and horseradish in different spots along the table.