Eight nights of gifts might be compelling to some, but in my book Chanukah doesn’t hold a candle to Purim. As far as I’m concerned, Purim is easily the most fun holiday on the Jewish calendar. It’s a one-day affair complete with a great story, costumes, cookies, noise-makers, drinking…it doesn’t get better than that!
Although Purim offers entertainment aplenty, it can easily go sour for kids kept up past their normal bedtimes. The cute costumes can get itchy and uncomfortable after sitting and listening to the megillah (the scroll containing the biblical narrative of the Book of Esther) for an hour, and a roomful of noisy groggers (Purim noise-makers) is more than some children can bear. Some of the most epic temper tantrums in the history of our family have happened on Purim!
Over the years, we’ve adapted our celebration routine to make it a better experience for everyone, both as a family and as a community. We belong to the Washington Square Minyan in Brookline, and several years ago we were part of a brainstorming group that met to discuss Purim. The challenge we faced was creating programming for Purim that would be compelling for young children and also fun for adults.
We decided to try a totally different approach—we put on a puppet show for the children in the late afternoon. I wrote the script for two puppeteers and a narrator based on the megillah, adding some reading from the megillah itself and some opportunities for the kids to make noise when Haman’s name was spoken. We provided enough time between the puppet show and the real megillah reading for parents to bring their children home to a babysitter, if they chose. That way, adults who wanted an “adult” Purim experience could have one, and the children who stayed would have a renewed understanding of the story. The plan worked perfectly and we’ve been reprising it ever since!
Want to try your own Purim puppet show? Here are some helpful tips:
- We purchased Purim Puppets, which are wonderful and come with all sorts of removable costumes, facial hair, etc. But you can easily do it with a cast of other puppets, as long as you introduce each one at the beginning and make sure the children know who’s who.
- Write your own script and have fun with it! Start by reading a translation of the megillah and making a list of the “scenes” you want to include. Keep the language relatively simple, but try to find as much humor as possible. Children love to laugh, and the Purim story is ripe with characters that can easily be spoofed.
- Find lively “puppeteers” who will make the story come to life. I do it with my husband; it’s our annual foray into the world of performing arts.
- The narrator is key to the success of the show. Ours does a fabulous job making the storytelling come to life, and he also begins and ends the show by reading from the megillah, which makes it a little more authentic.
- Our show lasts about 15 minutes, which always seems like just the right length. We get through all the high points of the story and hold the attention of almost all the kids in the room, ranging from 1-10 years old.
- Each year I edit the script slightly, trying to add some new jokes and trim parts that dragged or fell flat the year before. This helps keep it fresh, particularly for the parents who sit through it again and again!
Our at-home celebration has evolved as well. Instead of putting months of planning into our costumes, we plan creative mishloach manot (Purim gift baskets) instead. Each year we choose a theme and have a blast gathering and making tasty treats to match. We’ve done barbecue (spice rub, homemade barbecue sauce and cornbread), healthful fare (homemade granola bars, fruit and bottled water), Shabbat (homemade challah, kugel and candles) and lots of others. The only common thread each year is the hamentaschen!
I’ve been baking hamentaschen since I was in college, and it’s one of the things I look forward to most about Purim. We make our own prune and apricot fillings, and I make oodles and oodles of dough. The whole family gets in on the rolling, cutting and shaping, and we end up with more than 250 hamentaschen to share. (I start several days ahead of time, making batches in my KitchenAid mixer and amassing piles of plastic-wrapped dough in the fridge.)
My kids still dress up, but we don’t invest the same amount of time and effort in the process so it’s easier to brush off wardrobe malfunctions and less heartbreaking to remove an article of clothing that’s uncomfortable. By focusing more on the things we do together and the things we do for others, we enjoy the holiday much more.
Find more ideas for celebrating Purim at InterfaithFamily.com.
Sheri Gurock is a proud mom and owner of Magic Beans in Brookline.