Because Not all Holiday’s are Created Equal….

March 10, 2009

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Three world famous pastry chefs cooking up some hamantaschens for Purim 2008

I do not necessarily consider myself a religious Jew or even a celebratory kind of guy for that matter. But if I am picking and choosing my holidays with a discerning and skeptical eye, I think it is safe to say that Purim makes the cut. It is not a top five holiday (that exclusive list consists of Passover, Fourth of July, Yom Kippur, Guy Fawkes Day, and Festivus of course) but it still finds its way onto a top ten list.

Jews annually celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar (which is today’s date if you are one of those too-cool-for school non-conformists that shuns the efficiency of the Gregorian calendar and buys into that whole Hebrew calendar lunisolar thing).

The story itself, which is recorded in the Book of Esther, has the same basic narrative arc as many other classical Jewish texts – some wacko foreign hot-shot wants to destroy the Jews but the evil maniacal plan foiled and the Jews live to see another day. Yay underdogs! Yay miracles! Yay survival! And today Jews are supposed to go to synagogue, pray, and eat chow-down symbolic foods to celebrate avoiding annihilation and genocide.

And while the basic story doesn’t scream originality, the Purim account has a few out of the ordinary quirks that are worth mentioning:

  • The book of Ester is the only place in the bible where God’s name is not mentioned. While traditional Jews explain that God’s was just working behind the scenes to save the Jews, there is clearly room for a secular interpretation. In many ways the holiday is an exercise in hero worship and the power of human agency as the catalyst for historical development. I dig it.
  • Jews are supposed to eat hamantaschens, or as the cool kids say ‘taschens’, on Purim. This three-corned shaped cookie filled with your choice of fillings – prunes, dates, apricot, chocolate, or my personal favorite poppy seeds – is supposed to represent the ears (or hat) of the villain of the Purim story Haman. I don’t know the exact historical origins of the old ears versus hat debate but last year my coworkers and I debated the contentious point for a solid two hours in the middle of the workday. (For the record, I have always subscribed to the ear school of thought because Judaism is lacking in the transubstantiation department.) Later in the day, about ten of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, proceeded to leave work and search for hamantaschens for about a good hour. I should note that this is  just another normal day in the life of a start-up Internet company.
  • When Haman’s name is said while the Book of Esther is being read , you are supposed to make loud uproarious noises. It is just nice to have an excuse to be disruptive.
  • The Book of Ester is the last book in the Hebrew Bible to be canonized. Just saying, there is a very good chance that would be the answer to a Jeopardy question.
  • Until the 20th Century, effigies of Haman were burnt outside synagogues. In the .47% chance that I become a rabbi and start my own fringe-congregation, you better believe we are reviving this tradition.

Regrettably, Purim also has a few customs that are similar to a forgettable freshman year frat-tastic party: you are supposed to dress up in costumes and drink yourself silly. I have nothing against drinking or dressing up as events in and of themselves but something about pairing the two up annoys me; the combo reminds me of my least favorite day of the year Halloween. Sigh.  

Yet, overall, on the quasi-arbitrary holiday ranking scale, Purim snags a B/B+. Not bad – now if only we could bring back those effigy burnings.

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3 Responses to “Because Not all Holiday’s are Created Equal….”

  1. Amy Says:

    Am I right in assuming that Purim:Halloween::Hanukkah:Christmas?

    Meaning, not a real holiday? Or is this one of those situations where Jews really did come first?

    Also, Passover is the #1 day of the year.

  2. Boca Junior Says:

    Arthur commented on your blog. To read the comment, read more text in this box or section.

    Arthur digs this post.

    Delete / Post reply.

    Accept his friendship?

    Ignore his poke? Poke back!

    What a firm poke that was.

  3. Ester Says:

    The resemblance between Purim and Halloween is entirely coincidental. Halloween is a lightly-smoothed-over pagan autumnal celebration of the day of the dead; Purim is a vernal celebration of making it out alive. I think the longer both these holidays are observed in America, though, the more similar they will seem.

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