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Solving the Passover Panic: Tips on Setting the Seder Table

A fabric designer from Manhattan calls her sister- in-law in a panic.

At 45, she is preparing her first Passover seder for 17 members of their family. “Forget about the food,” she says. “I don’t even know what I need on the table.”

Because Passover represents a defining moment in Jewish history, most hosts anticipate an exalted seder, one worthy of the Exodus.

But as the countdown to Passover begins, they are so busy planning menus and ridding their homes of chametz, food that is not kosher for Passover, they frequently fail to take inventory of what the holiday requires. At crunch time, they are desperately seeking tableware — or just making do.

“Why is this night different than all other nights of the year?” Because we eat only matzah — and we need more dishes, glasses, silverware and serving pieces than you could possibly imagine.

The Deal on Dishes: While Orthodox and Conservative Jews dedicate special plates exclusively for Passover, few people own enough china to meet the challenge of a large seder. But there are ways to cover the shortfall.

You can borrow plates from family and friends. However, if you intend to host future seders, you may want to acquire your own tableware.

Because adding to fine china can be costly, one option is to buy glass dishes. Although clear glass goes with any color, tinted glass is trendy, so hosts may opt for a shade that coordinates with their pattern.

You can peruse antique shops, specializing in collectible china. While wearing the patina of past glory, this porcelain is often more charming than anything manufactured today. Odd-lot dishes are sometimes sold at bargain prices. Because every plate is unique, they dazzle the eye, sitting atop a matched set of dinner plates, awaiting the first course. But take care to properly wash this porcelain for Passover.

Stretching Silverware and Crystal: A meal of many courses, calling for the consumption of four glasses of wine leaves many hosts short on goblets. But you can buy stemware, sold four-to-a-box for about $10 at department and houseware stores. If crystal is in short supply, don’t squander it on children, who are happy with glasses.

The same holds true for sterling silver flatware. Save the silver for adults and seat children at one end of the table, set with stainless steel. Wash silver forks from the first course, using them again for dessert. Seder means order, not perfection:

If there are gaps in your accoutrements, don’t despair. Remember that Passover began as a nature festival celebrated by nomadic Jews. The holiday’s theme revolves around freedom and redemption, not finery on the table.

The heart of Passover is sharing joy with people you love. Elijah never turned down an invitation due to a scarcity of china, silver or crystal.

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