Seder Plate

Happy Passover! Here's All The Food On The Seder Plate, Decoded

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because it's the first night of Passover, of course!

Those who observe the holiday know that Passover is traditionally ushered in with a festive dinner called a Seder, a ritual that celebrates the freeing of the Jewish slaves from Ancient Egypt.

The Seder involves wine and the recitation of the Haggadah, a Jewish text that includes prayers and excerpts of stories and songs.

If you’ve never been to a Seder before, you might never have encountered a Seder Plate. The Passover Seder Plate is a special plate containing symbolic foods that are displayed and subsequently eaten during the Passover Seder.

We asked several people who have celebrated Passover before to give us their best guesses (without conducting any research or consulting any guides) on what the different foods on the Seder Plate represent. Results were varied, to say the least.

So, without further ado, here’s your “all-inclusive” guide to each of the items on the Passover Seder Plate:

Item Number 1: The Hardboiled Egg (often roasted)

Best Guesses:

  • “Eggs represent the fertility of the Jewish people. We eat them to remind ourselves to bear children.”
  • “The egg… symbolizes life? Even though I think eggs are gross and sometimes make me want to throw up but honestly doesn’t life want to make you throw up sometimes?”

What it actually represents (all definitions courtesy of the Chabad website):

  • “A hard-boiled egg represents the holiday offering brought in the days of the Holy Temple. The meat of this animal constituted the main part of the Passover meal.”

Item Number 2: The Horseradish

Best Guesses:

  • “This is the one I always pass over (heh!) without anybody realizing.”
  • “Oh, I don’t remember. Yucky.”

What it actually represents:

  • “Bitter herbs (maror) remind us of the bitterness of the slavery of our forefathers in Egypt. Fresh grated horseradish, romaine lettuce, and endive are the most common choices.”

Item Number 3: The Charoset (a sweet, dark-colored paste made of fruits and nuts)

Best Guesses:

  • “Deliciousness… damn son.”
  • “Ahhhh charoset. Yum, yum, and yum again. If Cake Boss was able to make a cake fully out of charoset, I'd drive myself to Jersey (no driver, no nanny) just to pick it up! Charoset represents the sweet side of the Jews — our kindness and generosity as a people.”

What it actually represents:

  • “A mixture of apples, nuts and wine which resembles the mortar and brick made by the Jews when they toiled for Pharaoh.”

Item Number 4: The Shank Bone

Best Guesses:

  • “I literally do not know — is it multi-purpose? Animals as laborers and also as sustenance?”
  • “I’m pretty sure this bone represents the Jews as warriors. We chew directly into it, proving that not even the marrow of bone can destroy our enamel. We fight. We conquer. But first and foremost, we attempt peace.”
  • “Shankbones are there to wave around and say things like AAARGH! and Wailey! Wailey! Wailey!”

What it actually represents:

  • "A piece of roasted meat represents the lamb that was the special Paschal sacrifice on the eve of the exodus from Egypt, and annually, on the afternoon before Passover, in the Holy Temple."
  • "Since we can’t offer the Paschal sacrifice in the absence of the Holy Temple, we take care to use something that is relatively dissimilar to the actual offering. Accordingly, many communities have the custom to use a roasted chicken neck or the like."

Item Number 5: The Bitter Herbs/Lettuce

Best guesses:

  • “In my opinion, all the bitter stuff has to do with what I've been eating this year or thinking of eating now that half my musical icons are dead.”

What it actually represents:

  • “The lettuce symbolizes the bitter enslavement of our fathers in Egypt. The leaves of romaine lettuce are not bitter, but the stem, when left to grow in the ground, turns hard and bitter.”

Item Number 6: The Parsley/Boiled Potato (dipped in salt-water)

Best guesses:

  • “I don’t know officially, but what I know off the record is that it is some bomb a** s***. Damn I love it.”
  • “Nature’s special breath freshener.”

What it actually represents:

  • "A non-bitter root vegetable alludes to the backbreaking work of the Jews as slaves. The Hebrew letters of the word karpas can be arranged to spell 'perech samech.'"
  • "Perech means backbreaking work, and samech is numerically equivalent to 60, referring to 60 myriads, equaling 600,000, which was the number of Jewish males over 20 years of age who were enslaved in Egypt."

So there you have it, folks. Just remember: While each of the items alludes to its own traditional symbolic reference, that shouldn't prevent you from forming your own meaningful connections for yourself and the people around you.

Ultimately, Passover holds a special place at the center of Jewish tradition. It is a celebration of liberation, after all, as well as an excuse to race around and try to get to the afikomen first, of course. (That's a broken-off piece of Seder matzo which diners search for like a game of hide-and-seek at the end of the night.)