Purim is one of those holidays that is masked (no pun intended) in uncertainty. It’s very clear why we celebrate Pesach the way we do, but Purim? The mitzvot that we have to fulfill on Purim are as follows: read the megilla, give money to the poor (matanot l’evyonim), send gifts of food (mishloach manot), and eat a festive meal. Reading the megilla I understand – it’s a recorded event that happened years ago on this day, so we recount the story. The festive meal is also pretty easy to grasp; we’re Jews, we were hunted, G-d saved us, let’s eat! We’re supposed to give money to the poor all the time – yes, the mitzva of giving tzedaka – so why is it extra special and important on Purim? And giving gifts of food to friends a month before Pesach doesn’t really sound like much of a kindness to me, even if it’s meant to spread unity and friendship.
Then there are the other customs… like getting drunk. Why do we get drunk on Purim? To be like Achasverosh? He doesn’t seem like the best Purim character to try to emulate. The Shulchan Aruch says that you’re supposed to get drunk to the point where you can no longer differentiate between “Cursed be Haman, blessed be Mordechai.” Does this mean that on Purim we’re not supposed to know who our enemies are? Because given the country I live in (Israel) and the recent tragedies we’ve experienced, I think it’s of utmost importance to remember just who our enemies are. Sure, there are other reasons for why to drink on Purim, but I must admit that as someone who just doesn’t like alcohol, I’m a big fan of the Mishna B’rura‘s explanation that it’s perfectly fine to reach that state of unknowing by taking a nap.
My favorite Purim custom, however, is dressing up in costume. I don’t understand why we do it, but I’ve learned to stop asking and just do it. I’ve heard all sorts of reasons for it: because Purim is all about hidden miracles, so we hide ourselves, because there’s something in Kabbalah about bringing out our inner beings that we normally keep hidden on Purim, because Mordechai was honored by getting dressed up in royal robes, etc. etc. Bottom line: I don’t get it, but I do it quite enthusiastically.
I’ve always loved dressing up. My parents kept a trunk full of costumes, which over the years expanded to a trunk and a big box full of costumes. I never needed a reason to dress up in costume. Some days I’d be a cowboy, others an Indian, sometimes I’d be a super hero, other times I’d be a damsel in distress. Around the time that I was in 6th grade, my mother taught me how to operate a sewing machine. Since then my costumes have become even more creative (and absurd). Dressing up for me is not about looking elegant, or “hot.” It’s about having fun, adopting another personality, being someone or something other than myself. Don’t get me wrong – I love myself, but it’s fun to be other people sometimes too. (Maybe that’s why I love acting as much as I do.)
But for all that I love dressing up just for fun, dressing up on Purim has become an obsession. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but the first time I remember doing something creative for a costume was back when I was in elementary school and the original Star Wars movies were re-aired in theaters. My family is big on Star Wars, so we women decided to dress up together. My mom dressed up as C-3PO and dressed up our shop-vac as R2-D2 (which she pushed around with her), my grandmother dressed up as Chewy (Wookiee sounds included), a friend of mine with long hair joined us as Princess Leia, and I dressed up as Darth Vader. You have to understand – Star Wars returning to theaters was a big deal, and Darth Vader costumes were aplenty that Purim. The reason why my costume kicked the other Darth Vaders’ butts is because mine was homemade! I took some plastic version of a motorcycle helmet that we had in the toy box, painted it black (and then used black face paint around my eyes and any other part of my face that showed through the helmet), made myself a black cape and chest-board control panel, and walked around breathing deeply like a chain smoker. It didn’t look realistic, but there was no question as to who I was supposed to be. I even made a little girl cry when I wished her a happy Purim. After nighttime megilla reading my shul always had a costume contest during which each contestant came forward and announced in a microphone what he/she was dressed as. Over time the contest expanded to have an adults contest too, as well as giving out multiple awards such as “most creative costume,” “cutest costume,” “fiercest costume,” etc. etc. That year, they only had one category: best costume. I won.
I tend to be a bit over-competitive when it comes to Purim costumes. It became my goal to win the costume contest each Purim. I succeeded. By the time I was leaving high school, I felt too young to partake in the adults contest (as all the adults were parents of kids my age), and winning the kids contest was like taking candy from a baby (literally). After high school, I came to Israel. There were no more costume contests, but I had my standards to live up to, and that was competition enough for me.
While I don’t remember all of my costumes since then, here are most of them:
Pillsbury Doughboy – The year after I dressed up as Darth Vader, I dressed up as the Pillsbury Doughboy – you know, that lovable little white dude with the chef’s hat who goes “heehee!” when he gets poked in the stomach… Interestingly enough I made the same little girl cry when I once again wished her a happy Purim. Never thought of the Pillsbury Doughboy as scary…
Wealthy Lady from the Mid 1800s – This was the year my mother taught me how to use a sewing machine, and this was one of the few things I sewed from a pattern. I was a beautiful gown with a poofy skirt, poofy sleeves at the shoulder, lace around the sleeve cuffs,and a lace covered bodice that came down to form a “V” at the waist. It was truly beautiful, except I don’t know what possessed me to make it hot pink! I suppose that I must have figured that if I were to dress up as something girly, I might as well go all out. So much for realistic period costumes…
Medusa – Having made a costume with a sewing machine and a pattern the year before, I decided to try my hand at sewing without a pattern. I bought silky/slimy snake skin fabric (this was at the height of animal print fabric popularity back in the 90s) and made a very elegant, fitted dress, from neck to toe with sleeves that came down to a point by my middle fingers. I then took a headband and twisted black pipe-cleaners around it, gluing onto the tips of each pipe-cleaner a diamond shaped, cardboard-backed piece of the snakeskin fabric and attached little, red, felt snake tongues to the tips of the snakeskin diamond. That made for quite dramatic, snaky hair. Add finishing touches of green face paint and creepily long finger nails, you have yourself a Medusa scary enough to turn men to stone! (Badum ching!)
Movie Theater Floor – This costume is actually one of my all-time favorites. Earlier that year my parents had carpeted some rooms in the house. I took a leftover rectangle of carpet and spray painted it red for the base of my costume. I took empty popcorn containers, soda cups, straw wrappers and candy wrappers from the local theater and glued them down to the red carpet. I made some popcorn and glued it down around the edge of the popcorn container, smushing it as I went to give the illusion of spilled and walked on popcorn. I then poured a lot of glue at the opening of the knocked-sideways soda cup, and when it dried I colored it brown to look like spilled Coke. I even took chewed bubblegum and worked it into the carpet using an old pair of shoes. The highlight (pun intended) of the costume was a long, blue, rope-shaped night light that I tied down around the edges of the carpet. I hung the carpet around my neck, and plugged the lights in, setting me aglow. Sure, it meant that for the full effect I had to stand next to an electric outlet, but it was worth it!
Piece of Chewed Bubblegum Stuck Under a Table – Probably my strangest costume to date (yes, I have other strange costumes too), I covered myself, head to toe, wrapped best I could in a pink bed-sheet, with a piece of pink foam wrapped around my head. I was a piece of chewed bubblegum. I then strapped a board to my back, covered it with a table cloth and glued down a place setting in the center of it. When I leaned forward, I was a piece of bubble gum stuck under the table. To finish off the costume I wore brown socks on my hands and feet to be the four legs of the table. What can I say? I went through a weird phase.
You Are What You Eat – The next year was my first year in Israel. I went to a fabric store for inspiration for a Purim costume, and I found the exact fabric used to make my seminary’s table cloths. Inspiration received. I took a cardboard box big enough to fit over me, cut holes for my head and arms, covered it with the tablecloth fabric and a plastic tablecloth cover, which I also cut holes in. I then took a plastic plate, cut out the inside and glued it down over the hole for my head, and glued down a place setting (napkin, fork, knife and cup) around it. When I put the costume on, it looked like my head was on a plate. I taped a sign to the front of me that read, “You are what you eat.” It seemed a fitting costume for a seminary girl.
Anna Banana – That first year of mine in Israel was a three-day Purim (Purim meshulash – what happens in walled cities – like Jerusalem – when Purim falls out on Shabbat). As such, I had another day of dressing up in costume. Far be it from me to dress in the same costume two days in a row! It happened to be that there was another girl named Anna in my year at seminary, and so together we decided to dress up as “Anna Banana” (meaning we both dressed up as bananas). I bought bright yellow fabric for the outer peel, and a pale yellow fabric for the banana. I made a hood out of the pale yellow fabric, and a sort of robe with sleeves out of the bright yellow fabric. When we held our arms up, it looked like we were bananas being peeled. We added oval “stickers” pinned to our stomachs that read “Anna Banana #0000001” and “Anna Banana #0000002,” like the stickers you so often find on store-bought bananas. (To date we still argue over who is Anna Banana #1 and who is Anna Banana #2).
Day 3 of Creation (flower) – By the time Purim rolled around in my second year in seminary, there were only 6 girls in the second-year program. We decided to dress up as the 6 days of creation (and no one would be Shabbat). I got stuck with day 3: plants and such. So I decided to dress as a flower. Using a very creative technique I picked up from an artist friend of mine, I made the flower using a wire-frame with pink fabric sewed tight over each wire petal. I put this circle of pink petals around my face and wore a green skirt and shirt so the rest of me would look like the stem. Then using wire I made leaf shaped arm bands that I covered with green fabric. Once again, another nauseatingly girly costume, but it was a success.
Cactus – Having officially become an Israeli citizen the year earlier, I decided to do something Israeli for Purim. Native born Israelis are known as “sabras,” or in Hebrew “tzabarim,” meaning cacti (hard on the outside, soft on the inside – something like that). So I bought dark green material, made myself a green robe, and using the leftover material I made oddly shaped “balloons” that I stuffed with socks and the like and pinned all over me to make the odd protrusions that cacti have. Then for the pricklies, I just stuck toothpicks in the fabric throughout the costume. Yeah… weird. Needless to say, no one hugged me that Purim.
Evil Stepmother/Witch – Inspired by the Disney film Enchanted that came out earlier that year, I decided to dress up as the evil stepmother from Snow White when she’s in the witches form. The costume was fairly simple. I made a big black robe with a long hood, and put it on, covering also the backpack on my back to give me a hunched-back look. Then I powdered my hair white (for whatever bits of hair stuck out from under the hood) and put on a fake witch’s nose to which I added a large and ugly wart. Then I took a woven basked, filled it with green apples, and topped it off with one deep red, poisoned-looking apple. I went around to people, offering the red apple and saying in my best evil witch’s voice, “An apple for the pretty lady/handsome man?” My costume was ruined when my college principal took me up on my fake offer, grabbed the red apple, and ate it. Next time he saw me he clutched his throat and pretended he was dying from poisoning. Then he got up and walked away, laughing. Grrrr…
Guide and Broom – Ok, so this is probably my weakest costume to date. I had met the man of my dreams and was set to get married a week after Purim. What with last minute wedding details to work out, I had no time to work out a costume that I could really be proud of. Add on to that the need to plan a costume for two, I’m still surprised we had anything to dress up as at all. But this last minute wedding craziness gave me the inspiration for this costume: A Guide and Broom a bit crazed a week before their wedding. (Get it? Guide and Broom instead of Bride and Groom.) My fiance dressed up as a guide (tour guide, and an Israeli one at that) in khaki shorts, sandals, hat and holding a colorful umbrella for his tour group to easily spot. Oh, and he had a black bow tie around his neck for the confusion of it all. I dressed up as the broom, wearing all brown and a kid’s sized straw colored hula skirt around my knees. Oh, and a kiddie costume bride’s veil for my confused nature. Not my best, but we got some laughs.
Black and White Film Stars – Ah yes, my most failed Purim costume to date. We decided to dress up as Humphry Bogart and Ingred Bergman from Cassablanca, but in black and white, as if we had just stepped out of the television screen. My husband wore black shoes, black pants, a white button down shirt with a black bow tie, a white suit jacket, and a black fedora. (I even let him shave his beard so as to look more like Humphry Bogart! I’m such a nice wife.) I sewed myself a gray silky gown, similar to the one that Ingred Bergman wore in the flashback to Paris scene. The real challenge was the skin. I searched high and low to find gray face paint to complete the black and white TV look, but I couldn’t find anything that would work right. Finally, the day before Purim I found gray face paint, but only after thoroughly covering any bit of showing skin with it did we realize it was way too dark. So for Purim that year we dressed up as Zombie Humphry Bogart and Ingred Bergman.
Robin Hood and Maid Marian – Two summers ago when my husband and I were vacationing in America, we bought a Robin Hood feathered hat at a Renaissance Faire. Since then I’ve been meaning to make him a complete Robin Hood costume, and I finally did it. He wore his own khaki pants, tucked into his “boots” which I made by making fake leather leg warmers that are the same color as his hiking books, tied up with fake leather string. He borrowed a loose, white, hippie-ish shirt, and I sewed him a dark green/gray fake leather vest, which he kept closed with his woven-styled belt. Even with the Robin Hood hat on his head, the highlight of this costume was the hooded cloak I made him. I modeled it off of the traveling cloaks worn in The Lord of the Rings movies, down to the long, pointy hood and the metal sort-of brooch. For accessories I made him a coin pouch which he hung from his belt, made him a leather quiver which he slung over his shoulder (and in which he kept a couple of Native American bows we own… ok, wrong type for Robin Hood, but better than nothing), and we borrowed a wooden bow (which we modified a little) that he wore around his back. For Maid Marian I made a medieval looking gown out of bright green velvet, complete with bell shaped sleeves, ribbon around my upper arms, and a matching belt that hung to the floor. On my head I wore a gold veil (not the kind that brides wear that cover the face, but the kind worn in Medieval times) held on with a green and gold ribbon. Together, we were quite the sight to see, but individually, the Robin Hood costume totally stole the light. To add to the fun, our themed mishloach manot included Chanukah gelt (steal from the rich and give to the poor) and beer (brewed by Friar Tuck). Awesome costume, awesome time had by all.
So, yeah… not a clue what we’ll be dressing up as next year for Purim, but I assure you it will be awesome. Until next time…