Three Cornered Hat

Violet_building_2013-02-25

2013-02-25 – It is traditional on Purim to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between the hero of the day Mordechai and the villain Haman. It doesn’t take much alcohol for a moral relativist to reach this state. You only have to sniff the cork.

For those of you who don’t know, yesterday was Purim. Purim is the Jewish holiday that commemorates events retold in the biblical book of Esther. It is a story in which the Persian vizier Haman persuades the king Ahasuerus to exterminate the Jews of his realm. If you think my talk about moral relativism was just a joke, wait till you hear how this story turns out.

Purim is celebrated as a victory over the evil Haman. Brave Esther becomes Ahasuerus’ queen and then reveals that she is Jewish. Ahasuerus is stricken. You’d think he would have rescinded the decree against Esther’s people. But no! Decrees of Persian kings were infallible. (And maybe you can’t undo a policy of ethnic cleansing, anyway, by merely annulling a decree.) So the best thing Ahasuerus could do was allow the Jews to fight back, triggering a civil war.

I guess that, for a despised people like the Jews, this was as good as it was going to get.

A morally ambiguous ending. But we get drunk so we don’t know the difference.

And we eat hamanteschen, which are three-sided cookies with fruit or poppy seed filling. The word hamanteschen literally means Haman’s pockets, presumably referring to the reservoir where the filling is put. But I grew up being taught that hamanteschen are three sided to commemorate Haman’s three-cornered hat. Don’t ask me why a tradition of eating the villian’s hat came to be. I suppose it’s all part of the drunken frivolity.

The Purim celebration has much similarity to Mardi Gras, with costumes, noisemakers, and parades. It also makes me think of Halloween, in which the villian of that day is outfitted (sorta) with a pointy three-cornered hat. On Halloween, costumed kids go from house to house to beg treats. On Purim they go house to house to deliver treats.

We used to attend the festivities when the kids were young and, of course, I did it when I was young. But no longer. I can’t tell whether that is good or bad.

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