I love it when holidays correspond across cultures. It’s like peering through a crack in the armor of particular traditions to see the universal human sentiment behind them. The darkness of winter makes us long for light, and kindles the fires of Hanukkah, Christmas and Diwali. Spring’s return renews hope, and inspires us to tell the story of freedom on Passover, celebrate the promise of rebirth on Easter, and begin the new year on Nowruz. And now, with the worst of winter behind us and spring is just ahead, we feel a need to let loose. So we wear crazy costumes, get drunk and overturn the social order with the raucous festivities Purim, the pre-Lent blow-outs of Mardi Gras and Carnival, and the riotous colors of Holi.
I was a big fan of Purim when I was a kid, and when my kids were kids. We did the costumes and the carnivals and the noisemakers, reveling in the freedom of dressing ridiculously and screaming our heads off in synagogue. When we lived in Burlington, we never missed a Mardi Gras parade. I rode the Seven Days float a few times, throwing beads to the crowds. But most years I was on the sidewalk, caught in the crowd, euphorically catching. And once, about 18 years ago, our family visited Pakistan and India with David’s parents and sister, and we played Holi in New Delhi, getting smeared with colors by passing strangers on the street.
Experiencing Holi was a once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And I haven’t been to a Mardi Gras parade since we left Vermont. That leaves me with Purim, which my local synagogue does up in a big way, with an expertly arch reading of the Book of Esther and a first-rate Purim Spiel. But aside from baking my own hamantaschen and sending some to my kids, I haven’t done much about Purim lately, either.
I live a quiet life these days, and it’s left me sort of allergic to noisy crowds. But I like knowing that there are people out there wearing crazy costumes and putting on ridiculous plays and running around the streets with powders and liquids, turning strangers into rainbows.
And I especially like that people in different places and from different backgrounds are singing and dancing together, without even knowing they’re doing it.
Happy almost Spring!