Interfaith Purim Plus: A Wide Approach to Spring Holidays

When Purim arrives in the Jewish community, I challenge my students — all from interfaith families with at least one Jewish parent — to explore this holiday alongside the Hindu holiday of Holi, the Sikh holiday of Hola Mohallah, and the Catholic holiday of St. Patrick’s Day.

I encourage them to learn basic facts about each tradition. Such information is easily found online. But what cannot be found from a search engine is an understanding and experience of the deep nature shared by these different holy days.

Granted, since my students had at least one Jewish-connected parent, I had exposed them to Purim in years past. They acted out the story of Queen Esther, the Jewess who risked her life to save her people from wicked Haman’s plot to destroy Jewish life. They read the Megillah of Esther (the story in scroll form) about this event that supposedly took place in the ancient Persian province of Shushan (Susa).

They dressed up in costumes of the characters, ate hamentaschen (cookies shaped like Haman’s hat), shook  “groggers” (noisemakers to drown out Haman’s name in the story), and gave gifts of food to family and friends. Having practiced these Purim customs, I now led students to a new field of religious education; I integrated monofaith study with interfaith education and interspiritual experience.  You can, too.

RELATED POST: Purim: How We Celebrate a Festive Redemption

Interfaith Purim Plus: A Wide Approach to Spring Holidays

 As Purim is celebrated this year from sunset March 11th to sunset March 12 (or the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar), ask your children or students to compare Purim to holidays of different religions that occur around the same time. What might they learn about these holidays and those who practice them? And more importantly, what might they learn about themselves and their relationship to religion in a multi-cultural world?

After initial research, your students might see patterns similar to what mine saw. For example, during Purim, Jews masquerade in costumes. During Hola Mohallah, Sikhs wear costumes re-enacting mock battles that celebrate their survival and freedom (or khalsa). Even on St. Patrick’s Day, Catholics dress in the color green.

My students also noticed merry-making with these holidays. Jews are actually encouraged to drink on Purim (but not too much) as part of the occasion. Similarly, drinking is a familiar hallmark of St. Patrick’s Day. Youth also learn that on this feast day honoring the patron saint of Ireland, restrictions of Lent are removed (and hence drinking is allowed). The Hindu holiday of Holi includes squirting red and green colors of paint — colors that manifest divine love— on each other in a playful manner. (Either one starts with a costume to paint, or ends up with a newly painted costume!) 

Things got more interesting when these bright youth decided to explore more spring holidays —and not only religious. They asked, “Do all spring holidays include parades with costumes and noise and merry-making? What about Mardi-Gras, Chinese New Year, April Fool’s Day, the annual college Hash-Bash, and more?”

In answering, they realized they could not force all holidays to fit their schema. Did the holidays of Easter and Passover, also occurring in the Spring, reflect the same pattern they were noticing? What about when they learned from their Muslim peers in Jakarta via videoconference that there is no “spring” season in which to have a holiday! Their analysis relied upon a growing understanding of the religion, history, and geography of different holidays. Their conversations required interfaith, intercultural, and international awareness. 

As a way to deepen inter-religious study, you might encourage your students to display what they learned in art form. We decided on a poster to communicate our research and conclusions. Since the interfaith poster of the Golden Rule hangs on our classroom wall, we humorously imitated it. Instead of the Golden Rule poster, we created the Spring Rules poster. Not everyone agreed if Passover belonged so it was included with a question mark.

As the class engaged in critical thinking to debate the merits of holidays both religious and secular that reflect a spiritual energy of release, a deeper appreciation for our world’s diversity and its philosophical underpinnings evolved. Students saw a connection between religion and cyclical time, tradition and the repetition of nature, psychology and ritual.  One young man summed it up when he claimed that all these holidays reflect what happens when you suffer from “cabin fever.” (And not just in physical terms.) These holidays give us permission to reinvent ourselves.

While this exercise is by no means a definitive or final lesson in the teachings these holidays have to offer, it lays the groundwork for learning more and benefiting from our world’s great spiritual paths. By learning about other people’s religions, students mature into “global citizens” and expand their sense of self for success in a multi-faith society. To feel you belong to the world, in addition to your family and/or tribe(s), THIS you cannot get from Google. 

 NOTE: Regretfully missing from the description of spring holidays is Nowruz.  I wish to correct that error here, thanks to Neelam Mehta. “Perhaps no other Spring holiday is more closely connected to Purim (an Avestan/Persian word itself) than the over 3,000-year-old Persian new year of Nowruz (one of several transliterated spelling variations pending on which region). While rooted in Zoroastrianism, it is mostly secularly celebrated today by over 300 [million] people across ALL faiths and many countries. 

Purim for Kids | Multicultural Kid Blogs

This post is part of our annual Purim for Kids blog hop. Visit the posts below for great ideas about sharing this holiday with the kids in your life! Don’t miss our blog hop from last year, and you can find even more ideas on our Purim board on Pinterest:

Participating Blogs

ZinnHouse.com on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Interfaith Purim Plus: A Wide Approach to Spring Holidays
Moms & Crafters: Free Color-in Purim Puppets
Kelly’s Classroom: Better-than-Best Purim
Melibelle in Tokyo: From Shushan with Love
All Done Monkey: Free Purim Printables

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Lauren Zinn

Lauren Zinn holds a doctorate in educational planning, a masters in philosophy for children, and became a seminary-ordained interfaith officiant. She blogs at ZinnHouse.com where you are invited to Belong to the World, Bring Your own Tribes. Lauren is working on a book to guide parents and teachers in developing religious education for a global culture. This original blog post demonstrates Wide Over Narrow, one of ten principles she identifies for interfaith education.

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7 thoughts on “Interfaith Purim Plus: A Wide Approach to Spring Holidays”

  1. Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you learned something new.
    It would be great if you could visit a synagogue and actually experience Purim as it is traditionally celebrated just as I enjoy visiting other religious institutions to see how they celebrate.

  2. Pingback: How to Teach Religion Today - With Purim as an Example - ZinnHouse

  3. Great idea, Lauren! However, as the Catholic half of this interfaith marriage, I must object to the idea of St. Patrick’s Day as a “Catholic” holiday. It is generally understood by Massachusetts residents as a Irish holiday that is little more than an excuse for excessive drinking. In fact, there is a Boston-area (not even statewide) holiday–Evacuation Day–which is observed the day after St. Patrick’s, and is only a sanctioned day off from work to nurse hangovers.

    1. Thanks, Bette. This is really good to learn. It can be used to help distinguish between ethnic and religious holidays which sometimes overlap. I appreciate you sharing this and will incorporate in future lessons.

    1. Nope, we are on the same wavelength! and happy to be there with you. Thanks for reading and commenting. Love your blog!

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