I am a huge fan of theme parties and themed meals. Just this past Friday I hosted a Breakfast for Dinner Shabbat meal, with pancakes, blintzes, mimosas, and coffee cake. In the past I’ve had a Commonwealth Shabbat, where I invited all my friends from commonwealth countries, an autumnal Shabbat, with all orange and brown seasonal foods, an Indian Purim Seudah, and a Shabbat Kiddush where everything was orange. Themed gatherings are a great way to exercise your creativity in a way that everyone can get excited about. This makes them perfect for Passover seders.
You might be thinking: The seder already has a theme. It’s called Exodus. And okay, yeah, that’s a good point, but that doesn’t have to be the only theme. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head, but feel free to riff on many more:
The springtime seder. Fresh flowers and seasonal produce abound in this seder. Instead of big fancy centerpieces, just use some small flat vases with wheatgrass growing in them. If you have any locavores, or tree huggers in the house, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk about the connection between people and the earth.
The comedy seder. Have every guest try to come up with a joke or comedy sketch for a part of the haggadah, whether it’s the breaking of the middle matzah, or the rabbis staying up all night. You can play improve games revolving around the story of the exodus, and give a joke book as the prize for the person who finds the afikomen.
The contemporary slavery seder. Have everyone learn about a country where slavery is still prominent and tell the group a little about the slave trade in that country, how many slaves there are, and various organizations that are working to help free the slaves. Talk about the psychology of being a slave today, and how it would have been different in the time of the exodus. Experiment with being shackled, and then let out (okay, that might be taking it to an extreme).
The hipster seder. Skinny jeans required, arriving by bicycle preferred. The food should be gourmet, with a nod to the ironic (homemade gefilte fish, garnished with the jelly from the scary premade kind in the jar, organic whole wheat matzah served with prunes, etc), and the haggadah should be abstract. Serve the wine out of 40oz empty PBR bottles. Talk a lot about how slavery is so over.
The key to all of this is that you, as the host, really embrace the theme, and that you encourage your guests to embrace it, too, without shoving it down their throats. You can’t demand that everyone show up in costume, or that people will get really excited about an eco-friendly seder, but you can make it fun enough that people will naturally get enthused. One thing I suggest is sending out real mailed invitations that enthuse about the theme. Decorations are also key. And with any of these themes, keeping the wine flowing is a good and important way to keep people in reasonably good moods.
Pronounced: KID-ush, Origin: Hebrew, literally holiness, the blessing said over wine or grape juice to sanctify Shabbat and holiday.
Pronounced: PUR-im, the Feast of Lots, Origin: Hebrew, a joyous holiday that recounts the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre during the Persian period.
Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order”; usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.