Adar II, 5776
For years, I had been remarking that Purim is more stressful for me than Pesach (Passover). Most people scoff when they hear that. I had become the Purim Grinch, especially because the Holiday of Purim is one that is based upon fun, joy and goodwill.
I get that. But for me, the issue was that so much on Purim must be accomplished in a mere twenty-four hours. Within the short day of Purim, we are commanded to listen to the Megillah (scrolled story of Purim) twice, to give Matanos L’evyonim (gifts to the poor) and to prepare and deliver Mishloach Manos (edible portions) to others. Costumes must be made and adjusted. A Seudah (festive meal) must be prepared and eaten. Oh, and Purim falls out right on the heels of a fast day, Taanes Esther.
While so many women tend to stress over Pesach, I find Pesach so much easier to master. Yes, the house needs to become chometz-free and special foods, utensils and dishes must be used. Yes, the Seder must be set and it continues into the wee hours of the morning. But, Pesach can be as relaxing as you allow it to be and it is simple to relegate the Pesach cleaning to only ridding the house of chometz (leavened food). Pesach has order. Pesach has structure. Pesach is pure. Pesach is clean.
Purim on the other hand can be messy. People stop by all day delivering Mishloach Manos. I love to make nutritious Mishloach Manos that can be eaten at the Seuda, which usually translates into Mishloach Manos that needs to be prepared and assembled on Purim itself. Every year, I choose to make a certain number of Mishloach Manos. Some years, I am left with extras. Other years, people from all corners of the world drop by with Mishloach Manos and I have none left to give in return. The Mishloach Manos fill my kitchen, my hallway and my life. I have to still strictly enforce the “no rummaging through the Mishloach Manos unless you are willing to organize it” policy, even now that my kids are grown.
Oh, and the Seuda (festive meal). We invite our extended family to join us for the Seuda on Purim afternoon. No matter how much input I ask in planning the Seuda time, we have early birds and very, very late birds. For years, I struggled to set the table, reset the table, warm the food and rewarm the food as our guests trickle in. I get it. Everyone’s day is as tumultuous as mine. It just can be so stressful and difficult to plan.
So, after years of being the Purim Grinch, a few years ago I decided it was time to organize and simplify. In keeping with the true spirit of the holiday, I can now find joy and laughter in Purim.
Here are my top five simple Purim tips:
1.Try to keep Mishloach Manos simple and put the emphasis on Matanos L’evyonim (gifts to the poor)
In recent years, we have been sending donation cards to most friends and family and have been sending group Mishloach Manos through local shuls, schools and charitable organizations. The donations and organization mishloach manos help many different causes and have no calories, are easy to send and don’t require any clean-up. In recent years, a number of organizations have even set up online donations with cards that are instantly emailed. This works especially well on Purim day when we’ve remembered some last-minute people to acknowledge.
We only prepare a few mishloach manos for delivery. Although I still enjoy preparing nutritious packages that can be eaten at the seudah, I try to be creative in designing food and packaging that can be prepared in advance.
For the past couple of years, I have put the word out asking our seudah guests not to bring mishloach manos. This minimizes the amount of junk food entering our home and keeps the clean-up much easier.
2. Make sure to keep the fun in Purim for the kids
Purim is a fun holiday, but try to plan Purim with your kids in mind. As much as possible, try to keep to their normal schedule and diet to avoid melt-downs. Choose costumes that they can easily tolerate. Make sure that your child’s costume is comfortable and they can easily move around in the costume.
I remember as a child being excited to receive “tips” for delivering mishloach manos. I try to keep a steady supply of crisp dollar bills for children who come to my door with Mishloach Manos.
Assign roles and tasks to the children. Let them help assemble the Mishloach Manos, greet and take pictures of costumed guests, help prepare and decorate the Seuda and/or prepare and deliver a short Dvar Torah (Torah speech) at the Seuda.
For the past few years, we have played family ice-breaker games at our Purim party. This really engages the kids and keeps everyone in a festive mood.
3. Do as much as possible in advance and take control of the day
If you are making Mishloach Manos, follow through on all the smallest steps that it will take to complete. Make sure that you have everything in the correct quantities before you begin. Don’t forget the basics like labels, tape, staples, wrapping paper, ink in the printer and ribbon.
Keep a box with prepared Mishloach Manos and some donation cards near the front door for expected and unexpected visitors.
Check the schedule for megillah times, so that you can plan your day effectively. There are lots of distractions on Purim, but try as much as possible to start early and take control of the day.
Organize the mishloach manos that you receive. After Purim is over, I allow each child to take a few snack items for the next couple of weeks. I recycle the packaging that I can envision using within the next few weeks. Anything that we will not use goes into a donation pile and I donate it right away to a local organization.
4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself
I try to attend the earliest possible daytime Megillah reading and to eat a solid breakfast and/or lunch. I find that if I start my day early, I can attend megillah reading with the fewest distractions. Once I come home from Purim megillah reading, I must continue non-stop until nightfall. It is easy to get distracted by the constant deliveries and visits, so don’t forget to eat at least one nutritious meal before the Purim seuda later in the day.
5. Organize the Seudah as a buffet that keeps on giving
For the past few years, I have been setting up a Purim seuda buffet that is all-encompassing. This year, I am not even planning to set the dining tables. I will merely place centerpieces on the dining tables.
The buffet will have robust salads, soup in crockpots, and chafing dishes with main course items. The salad plates, bowls for soup and dinner plates, cutlery, napkins and cups will be on the buffet so that our guests can take their own food and sit down. Since it is hard to serve courses with guests arriving at different times, we will create a salad area, a soup area , a main course area and a drinks station on the buffet. Our guests will create their own courses. I will set up trash bins in all the rooms, so that our guests can clean up themselves, if they so choose.
Dessert will be simple with large bowls of fruit and individual hamentaschen and sweets. Hot water urns with coffee and tea will be available for our guests to help themselves.
We usually wind down our seuda with an exciting homemade game of Jeopardy, Malarky or Family Feud with topics and questions relating to Purim and our family. It takes the emphasis off the food aspect of the Purim seuda and is a great way to get all the cousins engaged with each other.
I have found that with a more informal format to our seuda, our guests are more relaxed. The children have more fun, I can kick back a bit and everyone is also more willing to help clean up at the end. That makes the next day easier, too.
It has taken many years of trial and error to simplify and organize all the disparate aspects of Purim day. I wish I would have found these solutions years ago when my kids were still small. Now that I have finally formalized these simple tips to tame the Purim Grinch inside of me, I find that not only am I enjoying Purim more, but so is everyone else around me. I hope that these simple tips will help you organize your hectic Purim day, as well. Now that we have taken control of Purim, we can look forward to the easy, orderly and pure holiday of Pesach.