A red fez cap sits on my dresser all year round, the survivor of many (not enough) purges, resignedly pushed aside when I need whatever it’s sitting on. Once a year, as its time to shine draws near, its red fuzz seemingly starts to glow in anticipation (no, I have not been getting enough sleep, why do you ask?).
There’s little anticipation coming from me, though. It’s late winter, and the air here in Israel is full of kids parrying back and forth about what they’ll be dressing up as on Purim. Hamantaschen with an array of fillings — raspberry is the best — have made their grand entrance onto bakery trays. The retail sales are in full swing: What looks like China’s entire stock of party bags, masks, and graggers have been placed in open boxes and on shelves in all the stores in communities that serve Jewish customers. My local buy/sell groups are full of parents desperately looking to borrow or buy a Little Red Riding Hood costume or a family set of Crayon costumes. I scroll on down.
The indefatigable Purim spirit tries its hardest to squeeze itself past our front door. Its small success is measured in the pack of face paint I reluctantly bought last week and the Amazon packages bearing cheap kids’ costumes that the delivery person just threw at our front door.
Yes, I, an Orthodox Jewish mother of a bunch of youngish kids, who lives in a town where almost half the population is under 18, am a Purim grinch.
Many weeks before Purim, the parents of my kids’ classmates scout out secondhand stores and Pinterest for costume theme ideas that involve things like the whole family dressing as astronauts and handing out marshmallow moons and Rice Krispie treat asteroids, while my mind has already skipped Purim and jumped forward to Passover, which I have deemed more worthy of intense work (nothing says “relaxation” as much as knowing there are no longer any crumbs underneath your refrigerator).
It could be worse. When we were engaged, my husband mentioned that he didn’t want our kids dressing up at all on Purim since the earliest mention of the custom of wearing costumes on this holiday is from the 1400s — not exactly Biblical times. Even then, its origins are closely tied to the advent of Lent festivities in Rome. “It isn’t Halloween and should not be treated as such,” he declared. Don’t worry, folks. He has come around and now dons the felt fez for the Purim festivities.
I’d like to say it wasn’t always this way and offer a backstory on some childhood Purim trauma, but it was always this way. I grew up in the simpler days when almost all the girls dressed as Queen Esther or Queen Vashti and the boys as the irascible Achashverosh or the nefarious Haman, and even then, I felt little interest. I never enjoyed dressing up, the commotion and noise, and the push to get so many things done in one day.
Nowadays, life as a parent can be overwhelming on a regular day; throw in costume and mishloach manot — or Purim gift basket — expectations, and the overwhelm can go over the top.
So what does a creatively-challenged stick-in-the-mud like me do on Purim when I have kids who don’t want to feel like total outsiders?
- I get my kids costumes (wink wink Amazon).
- I spend some time face-painting on Purim morning, and I buy the junk food that’s at its cheapest during the pre-Purim frenzy for us to exchange for other bags of junk food from friends.
- I play peppy Purim music on Alexa.
- I invite guests to the Purim meal to share the Purim spirit with others.
Because parenting is about putting your misgivings — and misunderstandings — aside when it involves injecting some more joy into the world.
We are taught that Purim is the most spiritually potent day on the Jewish calendar — even more so than Yom Kippur because it signifies God’s constant handiwork behind the scenes and how, just when things seemed most bleak, they turned completely upside down. We need this message. Gen Z (of which I am definitely closer to parenting than a member) is the most likely generation yet to say they don’t connect to religion, while at the same time, a study published in 2021 states that “42% of high school students felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities” (up more than 10 percent from the previous decade). So in recent years, I have grabbed those reins and chosen to focus on that holy aspect of Purim, making sure I carve out time on Purim morning to pray and imbue a bit of calm into my day.
Life can feel so unstable in today’s political (and natural) climate. If I can enjoy a few moments of meditative spirituality on Purim morning, then I can also deal with the costumes, the firecrackers, the obscene amounts of chocolate (I do tax my kids) and the chaos.
It’s one day a year, I tell my Purim Grinch self, but the memories will last a lifetime.