1. The Seder Is the Passover Feast

The word seder means “order,” and it refers to the highly structured feast held on Passover eve, the anniversary of when G‑d (acting through Moses) took our ancestors out of Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago.

Read: 14 Passover Facts Every Jew Should Know

2. Roast Meat Was Once a Major Part

Since the very eve of the Exodus, the central element of the Seder meal was roasted lamb or kid goat, known as the Korban Pesach (“Passover Offering”), which was slaughtered in the courtyard of the Holy Temple and then taken home to be roasted and enjoyed together with family and friends. Since the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, this sacrifice has been suspended.

Read: Can We Sacrifice a Paschal Lamb Nowadays?

3. The Main Foods Are Matzah and Maror

The Torah mandates that the Passover lamb be consumed along with matzah (flatbread made of just flour and water) and maror (“bitter herbs,” most commonly romaine lettuce and/or horseradish root). The matzah, which is baked before it has a chance to rise, reminds us of how hastily we left Egypt, and the maror recalls the bitterness of our slavery.

Read: 18 Matzah Facts Every Jew Should Know

4. The Meal Centers Around the “Seder Plate

The symbolic foods are arranged on a special dish, known in Hebrew as the ka’arah (“tray”), which is placed before the Seder leader. In some traditions, the matzah is on the tray (often under a cloth upon which the other foods are placed), while others place it on its own dish.

Watch: How to Prepare the Seder Plate

5. The Haggadah Is the Playbook

The most popular Jewish book of all time is the Haggadah (“Telling”), which guides us through the evening, during which we focus on retelling (and expressing our thanks for) the miracles of the Exodus. Considering that the Jewish people have been scattered all over the earth for thousands of years, the fact that our Haggadahs are nearly identical is remarkable.

Download (or Order): The Acclaimed Chabad.org Haggadah

6. There Are 15 Steps

As outlined in the Haggadah, the entire Seder procedure is divided into 15 rhyming steps, which makes it easy for anyone to remember what comes next in what can otherwise be an overwhelming sequence of reading, drinking, eating, washing, dipping, and more.

Listen: Sing the 15 Steps

7. We Invite Guests

According to the Pew Research Center, participating in a Seder is the most ubiquitous of all Jewish observances, even more than fasting on Yom Kippur or lighting Shabbat candles. It’s little wonder then that the experience is introduced by a short prayer that—among other things—invites all who are needy to join the Passover meal.

Read: A Simple Guide to Hosting Your Own Seder

8. We Drink Four Cups of Wine

We drink four cups of wine (or grape juice) throughout the course of the Seder, to celebrate our freedom:

  1. The first cup follows Kiddush, a brief prayer outlining the sanctity of the day.
  2. The second cup comes after we tell (and expound upon) the miracles of the Exodus.
  3. The third cup follows Grace after Meals.
  4. We drink the final cup after concluding the ritual-rich evening with Psalms of Praise (Hallel).

Read: Why Four Cups of Wine?

9. We Tell the Story of Exodus

Before we eat the matzah and maror, we do quite a bit of talking, using a prepared script as well as our own organic conversation to tell the story of the Exodus and its continued relevance to us today. The primary text, known as Maggid, is centered around the four-verse text Israeli farmers would recite when bringing bikkurim (the first fruit) to Jerusalem, as it is expounded upon in the Midrash. This was further expanded until the final script as we know it took form in the middle ages.

10. Children Play a Major Role

Regarding our recounting of the Exodus, the Torah tells us, “And you shall tell your child on that day.” Everything we do during the Seder is engineered to pique the child’s curiosity and then provide him or her with age-appropriate food for thought. Thus, Maggid kicks off with the child asking the Four Questions, each of which points out another unusual element of the Seder ritual.

Explore: The Four Questions (Mah Nishtanah)

11. We “Dip” Twice

Among the anomalies pointed out in the Four Questions is that we dip during the Seder, not just once but twice: First dipping our vegetable appetizer (karpas) into saltwater and then dipping the bitter maror into charoset, a sweet paste.

Read: Why Do We Dip the Karpas?

12. We Lean While Eating

The child also points out that we recline while eating our matzah and drinking our wine, following the etiquette of a formal banquet during the Second Temple era. This is an expression of our freedom, since slaves would never enjoy a meal in this manner.

Read: What If I Did Not Lean?

13. We Spill Wine

During Maggid, when we list the 10 plagues visited upon the Egyptians as well as other elements of the Divine retribution exacted on our erstwhile tormenters, we spill drops of wine from our cups.

Read: Why Do We Spill Wine at the Seder?

14. We Try to Wrap It up by Midnight

Back when the Seder featured Passover lamb, we were obligated to finish consuming it by midnight, the time when G‑d struck the Egyptian firstborns, the final blow that secured our freedom from slavery.

Even though we no longer have lamb on Passover eve, we try to eat our final piece of matzah, known as the afikomen, before chatzot (“halachic midnight”) on the first night of Passover.

Read: What Is the Afikomen, and Why Do We “Hide” It?

15. We Do It Twice in the Diaspora

For much of history, the start of each Jewish month was declared by the court after the “new moon” had been sighted. This meant that those far away from the court (Jerusalem) often did not know the exact Hebrew date until several weeks later. The practice thus developed in the Diaspora to celebrate Jewish holidays for two days, to ensure it was celebrated on the correct day. This was enshrined in Jewish law and remained normative practice even though the calendar is now set in advance. As such, outside of Israel the Seder is celebrated on the eve of Nissan 15 and then again on the following night, Nissan 16.

Read: How Important Is the Second Seder?