Reclaiming Purim

Perhaps no other festival inspires such a love/hate relationship for women as Purim. No, not even Pesach, when people might get very edgy beforehand, but everyone loves to sit at the seder with a house, which has been cleaned to whatever level they feel necessary.

Purim has so much potential to be an amazing day, and is so often filled with stress, whether beforehand or actually on the day.  For those blessed with children there’s the costume dilemma, then there’s the mishloach manos issues – how many? To whom? What? See here to be reassured you’re not the only family to whom this happens! And finally the seudah, when without the cooking restrictions of Shabbos or yom tov, one can give free rein to one’s creativity in the kitchen.

For some women, who love to sew, or bake, or decorate, then Purim is absolute heaven.  But for many women, whose skills in one or more of these areas might be lacking, then the whole thing turns into a stressful and guilt-ridden exercise.  This is not helped by Jewish publications which publish series of articles demonstrating how to make fancy and unrealistic creations.  We stopped buying one such magazine a couple of years ago, having become progressively more and more irritated with it, when they showed how to make individual pearl trimmed matza bags for your seder!  No, it’s fine, I don’t have anything else to do in the run-up to Pesach!

The mitzvos of Purim, apart from hearing the megillah, are designed to promote ahavas Yisrael  – giving tzedakah, sharing a festive meal with friends and family and sending gifts of food to neighbours and friends.  All of these, approached correctly, can greatly enhance interpersonal relationships.  How sad then, that Purim has turned into another frenzy of “keeping up with the Cohens”, resulting in a day filled with sugar-high kids with smeared facepaint, frazzled women and drunk men.

Let’s reclaim Purim as a wonderful day for connecting with each other and with God. If you enjoy and are good at “patchkerai” then that’s great.  If not, here’s what we do to aim for a less stressful day:

Costumes: Since the kids have become too old to be fobbed off with bridesmaids’ dresses and cobbled together outfits, we have just cut our losses and bought cheap costumes online. Each year, a couple of the children will wear a costume from our stock and we now have a good selection of outfits in a range of sizes.  Half the fun is actually choosing it, anyway. 

Mishloach manos: Fix the number for both adults and children.  If someone gives to you and you don’t have one for them, then just smile and thank them and consider giving to them next year – it’s not an exchange, it’s a gift.  We keep a bowl of sweets and coins for tzedakah near the door to give to children who come for whom we don’t have anything.  We limit the kids to 4 or 5 each, otherwise it’s too expensive and takes too long to distribute.  We go out as early as we can (having eaten breakfast in an attempt to cut down on the amount of nash consumed) and work out a route which basically does the left hand side of the main road on the way down and the right hand side on the way back.  Anyone who is giving to people very nearby, can go on foot.  Items to bring with you in the car:  carrier bags for rubbish and dismantled mishloach manos, sellotape, labels, a pen, coins/vouchers for tzedaka collectors encountered en route, water and tissues.

I refuse to spend a lot of money on packaging – it wastes time, money and resources, so we keep it as low key as possible.  Also, it’s worth considering the recipient, which is why I let our 9 year old daughter give out shiny silver bags to her friends, but not our 6 year old son – it’s just not the sort of thing a 6 year old boy notices on his way to a chocolate bar!

I  used to insist that the children gave at least one real food item such as a piece of fruit, but have now come to the realization that for kids a packet of nash, some chocolate and a carton of juice is a real meal!  I usually try to put in at least one home-made item and people seem to appreciate it, or at least they say they do.

Seudah: Accept all offers of food from guests, but give guidelines as to what would be useful, as well as telling them how many people there will be.

By the time it gets to the seudah, people are either too drunk (or will be soon) or too full of nash to worry about anything fancy.  Some things are essential, like chicken soup with kreplach.  I have made themed seudas before, but really you can keep the food quite basic.  I make sure there’s plenty of challah and dips/cruditees. I usually put out cakes and sweets that we have received in mishloach manos as dessert. Since the food you give is supposed to be something you could eat at the seudah, we might as well eat it at the seudah.  I just make icecream to go with it, and this year one of the guests is bringing fruit.

I hope these ideas might assist in achieving a more relaxed Purim, leaving some time to daven and think about the meaning of the day.  Purim is considered to be an eis ratzon/mesugaldike zeman – a time when our prayers are more likely to be answered positively. In the same way as we have an obligation on Purim to give to everyone who asks, we are told that Hashem will also give to everyone who asks, so let’s forget the externals and reclaim Purim as a wonderful day of connection with ourselves, each other and God.



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