Late winter and early spring are, for everyone, imbued with a sense of rebirth and excitement. It’s a time to escape the long winter—and look forward to the light. For the Jewish people, though, it means something more. It is the time for Purim, to celebrate when they were saved from annihilation at the hands of the Persians. It’s more than a party for the rebirth of spring; it is celebrating the miracle of existence.
And what a celebration it is! Purim is described as a time to let loose, offering more unalloyed fun than any other date on the Jewish calendar. It isn’t a day for somber reminiscing, but for celebrating the unvarnished joy of being alive in this world. It’s marked with costumes, lively decorations, and food—delicious sweets and amazing baked goods.
All of this—the food, the costumes, the love and joy—can be included in your ideas for a Purim gift basket. Giving gifts is part of the Purim tradition; a spirit of generosity reflects the nature of the day. So for Purim, assemble a gift basket that will make your friends and loved ones thrill to the particular delight of being alive in this fallen, yet beautiful and joyful world of ours. A freilichen Purim!
Haman’s Lottery: The Story of Purim—and Traditions
To understand exactly what we’re celebrating, we should briefly look at the story of Purim and its traditions. Sometime in the 5th-century BC, the Jewish people were ruled by Persia, whose vast empire spread out over much of the modern Middle East. The Emperor, Ahasuerus, had a much-loved young wife, Esther, who was Jewish (though no one knew that at the time, not even her new husband).
Ahasuerus was also close to his prime minister who ran the empire, a real piece of work by the name of Haman. Haman didn’t care for Jews, and ordered them all to be killed on a day chosen at random, in a kind of backward lottery. To block Haman’s destruction of her people, Esther courageously revealed herself to Ahasuerus as Jewish, an act of unity with her community as she could have hid her identity and saved herself from facing death instead of standing up for her people. But she was brave—and it saved everyone she loved. Her husband, the Emperor, didn’t take kindly to the idea of his wife’s people being harmed, so took care of Haman instead.
It’s not a fun story on the surface, of course, but the joy of surviving through cleverness, courage, and unity with friends and family is inspiring. Purim celebrates a day where people overcame their enemies by sticking together, by being unified in the face of a threat, and by following the bravery of people like Esther.
There’s a joy in that, a joy strong enough to now laugh at the ineffectiveness of Haman’s hate. In fact, the name itself is a Persian word for “lots,” as in Haman drawing lots to figure out what day to harm the Jewish community. That didn’t work out so well for him, though, and now on the 14th of Adar every year, we celebrate life, courage, and community instead.
“Perfect” Purim Gift Basket Ideas
OK, so this subheading is a bit of a fib. There are no “perfect” Purim gift basket ideas. There’s only the gift basket that makes you, and the recipient, the happiest. Giving a basket of food and drink, also known as mishloach manot, or the sending of portions, is part of the traditions of Purim to ensure that everyone has the means to celebrate. It’s another recognition of the importance of community and lending your neighbor a helping hand. Of course, when times aren’t lean, you can incorporate some fun as well as food.
Some elements of a great Purim basket include:
- Hamantashen: See? Still giving Haman the business. Hamentashen are triangular filled-pocket pastries, usually with a sweet filling inside. Sometimes they are closed so you don’t know what’s in them. That’s part of the mystery and joy of Purim—there are miracles everywhere. Sometimes, delicious miracles.
- Fruits and nuts: A fruit and nut portion
isn’t symbolic of anything, but they are foods that people could store even in rough times and share with their community.
- Chocolate: This is symbolic of chocolate being delicious—one of life’s simplest pleasures.
- Art supplies: Chalk, paints, paper, clay…we’re here in this world to celebrate and artistic presents give the gift of creativity and self-expression.
- Masks: Purim masks look a lot like Mardi Gras masks. As traditions sometimes find difficult soil in modern times, it might be good to throw in some costumes to remind younger people that this is a fun holiday celebrating life.
- Educational material: Speaking of kids, remind them what Purim is all about. If your basket recipient is a child, or has children, consider Purim-themed books or movies.
- Noisemakers: A big part of Purim is Gragger, also known as the Ra’ashan or Gregor. This is a noisemaker. It makes noise. Parents might not like it, but kids…the kids will.
Purim Gifts Exchanged Online to Spread Your Joy
In the old days (the very old days) sending gifts maybe meant going across town. Everyone was close together, so actually sending things to people far away was pretty uncommon. But times are different now. We’re able to expand our community of loved ones out of town, across the country, and around the globe. We’re able to host a Purim gift exchange with people throughout the diaspora.
One way to do that is by using an online gift exchange to arrange for a far-flung group of family and friends to send each other baskets, or at least the components thereof, no matter where they are in this big world. All you have to do is sign-up for free, and get your loved ones to do the same. You can even make it a mystery gift exchange, so people don’t know who they are getting their gift basket from. It’s like a basket-sized, closed up Hamantashen.
A really wonderful aspect of this is that you can make sure that everyone is taken care of. The online exchange is designed to ensure everyone has a match. It’s just like in the old days, when gifts were sent out to guarantee that everyone could celebrate this important community holiday together. A gift exchange helps keep that spirit of oneness alive, rekindling that huddled and warm sense of shared happiness no matter the globe-spanning distance between two people.
We give gifts at Purim to remember what was almost lost, and to celebrate what we still have. Haman tried to take everything away from the Jewish people, but he was stopped, and life went on, with all its absurdities and graces, all its sadnesses and joy, the terrors and the triumphs of the long millennia.
And through those centuries, throughout the world, Purim was celebrated, whether the basket had just two potatoes or was bursting with Hamantashen. It’s a way to celebrate being alive in the world with those you love. It’s a time to give, and to take joy in giving. It’s a time to remember the greatest lesson of all: that to be alive is to be blessed.
Take off your mask and dance! Tell us about your favorite Purim gift basket ideas on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting, browse our gift guides.