March 6, 2023
There are two religious holidays this week; and while they may appear to be different, they are actually quite similar in that both holidays are overtly joyous celebrations of renewal with plenty of music, and both focus on upsetting a social order all in the name of FUN!
Epstein's Ephraim Dissen discusses the holy holiday of Purim:
Purim takes place from the evening of March 6 through March 7 this year. Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of a plot to exterminate the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire (circa 5th century BC). The origin of the holiday is from the Megillah (book of Esther) when Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from annihilation and revealed her Jewish identity to King Achashverosh (likely Xerxes), and petitioned him to spare the Jews. Today, Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th of Adar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in late February to early March. To celebrate Purim, people dress in fun costumes, exchange gifts of food and drink, and attend special synagogue services. The traditional food of Purim is hamentaschen (triangular-shaped pastries), which represent the ear of Haman, the King’s principal minister and villain in the story.
Here is a recipe for hamentaschen (or in Hebrew "Oznei Haman" which translates to Haman's ear). Popular fillings include strawberry, raspberry, apricot jam, ground poppy seed, date spread, Nutella, and chocolate.
Happy Purim, “chag Purim sameach”, and “ah freilichen Purim” to all!
And Raveesh Varma discusses Holi:
Holi, celebrated on March 8 this year, alongside Diwali, is one of the two most recognized festivals within Hindu tradition. It marks the end of winter, and is an invocation for a bountiful spring harvest. It may be called the harbinger of spring, or a festival of renewal and of beginnings. Holi lasts one night and the following day, starting on the evening of Purnima (full moon), in the month of Phalguna (according to the Hindu calendar, a lunar calendar).
Holi is most recognized by the pictures of revelers speckled and drenched in color and returning the favor to others. This is partly why the festival is so popular in the Indian subcontinent: for one day, many socio-economic and religious barriers are put aside. It is commonplace for teachers to good-humoredly submit to being ravaged by their pupils, as do employers with their employees. Covered in colors, who can distinguish a businessman from a clerk, a Hindu from a Muslim, from a Sikh, or a Buddhist and a Jain? During the days of the Mughal emperors, the festival was called Eid-e-gulaabi, it was also observed in the Khalsa court of the great Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. During the days of the Raj, soldiers of the British Indian Army and employees of the civil service joined in the festivities as well.
During the advent of spring, people loosen their purse strings; houses are painted, new clothes are purchased and the best varietals of grains are purchased for cooking Holi-specific foods. There are over 50 varieties of rice grown in India, and guests comment on the profligacy of their hostess in using a particularly expensive varietal in her kheer (a very rich rice pudding) or biryani (rice layered with mutton or chicken and flavored with whole spices and ghee). It is customary in parts of India to fry fish and prepare gujiya (a sweet dumpling made with semolina and filled with khoa and dried fruits and then deep-fried in ghee), and guests drop in home-after-home, spread cheer and color, sample the culinary goodies and then be on their way. For the more adventurous, thandai is commonly available on Holi: a sweet milky drink made with crushed almonds, pistachios and cannabis leaves.
After the riotous celebratory morning and a particularly indulgent lunch (or more likely, a series of particularly indulgent lunches), people head home, shower and take a nap. In the evenings, it is common to head out for a kavi sammelan, a gathering where amateur poets present hasya kavita, or poetry using humor as its basis. Others may choose a dinner gathering with close friends or maybe a quiet evening with one’s immediate or extended family.
Holi Mubaarak, to all!