Purim: Fun and Games
By Edith Morgan
We all need a time to “let our hair down,” relax and maybe temporarily obliterate the present. For millennia our various cultures have recognized that people want a sanctioned time to drink and be merry all together. So Christians have just celebrated Mardi Gras– this year a very subdued version – but usually a wild bacchanalia centered in New Orleans.
At about the same time, following the lunar calendar, Jews celebrate Purim.
I always loved the story of Esther, which, though not part of the five books of Moses, nevertheless captured our imagination: Sometime between 500 B.C. and 800 B.C. in ancient Persia, where many Jews lived scattered about the Kingdom, King Ahasuerus took as his second wife the young and beautiful Esther as his queen.
Apparently, he did not know she was Jewish. The King’s evil grand vizier, Haman, compelled the Jews to bow before him. Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, refused, and Haman set about having all Jews killed. When Mordechai heard of this, he pleaded with his niece Esther, the Queen, to get the king to rescind the order. Which he did – and had Haman executed instead.
That, without frills, is the basic story. It always appealed to me, as it is just one of the times a woman
saved her people (I grew up in France and knew all about Joan of Ark.)
Purim is a sort of Jewish Mardi Gras: It is a time when we are exhorted to free ourselves, just for that time, of our inhibitions … to drink and eat a lot, wear face masks, make noise and just “let go.”
Over the centuries the celebration has grown and resembles more and more the bacchanalias of other cultures. Naturally, there is a festive meal, and one of the favorite pastries is the famous “Hamantaschen,” the three-cornered cookie, originally containing poppy seed filling or prune filling. But now it is often available all year round, with various fruit jam fillings, such as apricot. The shape is said to originate from the three-cornered hat worn by Haman, or in another version, said to be Haman’s ears.
It is a relatively easy pastry to make – basically starting with a round pastry, putting the filling in the center, and pinching up the three sides. You can Google innumerable variations and try your hand at it, using whatever filling catches your fancy.
There are also many ideas for crafts for the children, teaching them to make a variety of noise makers or to create their own masks or costumes. The idea is to have costumes and masks and noisemakers for the evening festivities. There is also a tradition of booing and noisemaking during the service when the story of Esther is read. Whenever the name of Haman appears in the reading, everyone boos and rattles their noisemakers as loudly as possible.
Just for that one eve, all decorum is thrown to the winds, and everyone behaves in a way opposite of the usual decorum! So, celebrate, drink some wine, make a joyful noise … and relax.