Eat, Drink and Be Merry...

Everyone loves a good story. Especially when the hero or heroine overcomes incredible odds and thwarts the evil plans of the enemy. The Biblical Book of Esther is one of those great stories: a young girl from a minority refugee community finds herself in the royal household of the King of an empire. Hearing of a dastardly plan to annihilate her own people, she submits herself to God and prepares to challenge the King, potentially at the risk of her own life. The villain of the story, Haman and his sons are executed but the wheels of his wicked scheme are already rolling. So, the King grants the Jewish community permission to defend themselves against those who are trying to kill them. Bloody battles ensue, in which many people are killed. By the end of the story, the Jewish community has survived and to mark the end of these battles, Esther's uncle Mordecai (who has his own interesting side plot in the narrative) writes a letter to the Jewish community of the empire...
"Mordecai wrote a letter and sent copies to all the Jews in all King Xerxes’ provinces, regardless of distance, calling for an annual celebration on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar as the occasion when Jews got relief from their enemies, the month in which their sorrow turned to joy, mourning somersaulted into a holiday for parties and fun and laughter, the sending and receiving of presents and of giving gifts to the poor."                                                       from The Message (MSG) - Book of Esther, Chapter 9
This celebration called 'Purim' is celebrated by the Jewish community around the world. To put it in a modern perspective, I imagine the relief and joy of the people was similar to that experienced by the allies at the end of World War II, when spontaneous dancing and celebrations filled the streets. In 2013, Purim falls on 24th February. As with all Jewish holidays, it begins at sundown on the day before.

How to Celebrate Purim

  • READ THE BOOK OF ESTHER TOGETHER - In Jewish tradition, this a lively rendering with the Congregation yelling, stomping and shaking wooden football rattles when the name of the evil Haman is mentioned. Often, children act out the story in full costume. This is a great opportunity to vividly tell a Bible story to our families or church. Why not, set up a puppet show or make a funny video to interpret the story or recruit different members of the Congregation to dress up and perform.

  • FOOD BASKETS 'Mishloakh Manot' - distributing baskets of sweets and goodies to family and friends is one of the customs of Purim. The basket should contain ready to eat food and often includes a small bottle of grape juice, sweets and chocolates, dried fruits, nuts and 'Oznei Haman' (Hamantashen) a special Purim triangular pastry stuffed with a poppy seed filling or jam. (See recipe below.) Bake some muffins and home-made cookies, display them in a nice basket, make a pretty gift tag and surprise your family and friends with an edible gift.

        • GIVE CHARITY TO THE POOR - is a Purim tradition. It could be an opportunity to consider how we can help those less fortunate than ourselves. Find out what is going on in your local area to help low-income families or collect some extra tins of food to help a soup kitchen for the homeless. If you would like to help the poor in Israel, CLICK THIS LINK

        • EAT A FESTIVE MEAL - Purim is a celebration of God's hand of providence and deliverance from evil. Celebrate the life battles you and your family have overcome. Praise Him for His faithfulness in the battles you are currently going through and the victory that is coming. Lay a festive table and prepare a feast. Traditionally the meal is followed by games or funny dramas to entertain the guests based on the theme of Purim. Enjoy the fellowship of others, have fun together and laugh a lot!

        "And they did it. What started then became a tradition, continuing the practice of what Mordecai had written to them. Therefore, because of everything written in this letter and because of all that they had been through, the Jews agreed to continue. It became a tradition for them, their children, and all future converts to remember these two days every year on the specified dates set down in the letter. These days are to be remembered and kept by every single generation, every last family, every province and city. These days of Purim must never be neglected among the Jews; the memory of them must never die out among their descendants. Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, backed Mordecai the Jew, using her full queenly authority in this second Purim letter to endorse and ratify what he wrote."
        The Message (MSG) from the Book of Esther, Chapter 9

        Easy Hamantaschen Recipe


        Makes 36 pastries

        340g butter or margarine, softened
        200g caster sugar
        2 eggs
        6 tablespoons orange juice
        1 tablespoon vanilla extract
        2 teaspoons baking powder
        560g plain flour
        1 (390g) tin fruit filling of your choice

        Preparation method

        Prep: 2 hours   | Cook: 15 mins

        1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the orange juice and vanilla. Mix in the baking powder, then gradually stir in the flour until the dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
        2. Preheat the oven to 190 C / Gas mark 5. Grease baking trays.
        3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 6mm thickness. Cut into 7cm circles using a biscuit cutter or drinking glass. Place circles on the prepared baking trays. Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling onto the centre of each circle. (Any more and it will ooze out) Pinch the sides of each circle to form a triangle, covering as much of the filling as possible. The biscuits may be frozen on the trays if desired to help retain their shape while cooking.
        4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until light golden brown. These are best undercooked slightly. Cool on the baking tray for a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

        Poppy seed filling
        If you can find it, use tinned poppy seed filling for these biscuits instead of fruit filling. You can find tinned poppy seed filling in Polish and Eastern European shops.