Ahh, those wonderful childhood Purim memories ... the hamentashen, the mishloach manot, the noisemakers we made back in nursery school out of old milk cartons filled with dry beans.
And then there are the costumes … Well, this is where my memories stop being so wonderful.
When it comes to the costumes, everyone else can reminisce fondly about Purims past, while I can only look back in utter horror and embarrassment. As others wax nostalgic as they flip through old photo albums and grin and chuckle at the appearance of their younger selves dressed up in celebratory disguise, I have contemplated burning all visual evidence of my youthful celebration of Purim.
It is the photo of the 5 year-old me dressed up as a queen—I think I was supposed to be Vashti … but then again I could have been Esther that year—that is the hardest for me to look at. I can still hear the guffaws and snickers of the older kids as we kindergartners paraded through the school's classrooms singing songs, twirling our groggers and showing off our costumes. "Who's she supposed to be?" they wondered aloud to themselves, "Sleeping Beauty?!"
To be honest, it was hard to blame them for thinking that that was who I was dressed up as. You see, I was wearing a tinfoil-covered paper crown and a nightgown. Worse yet, the nightgown was topped with my mother's housecoat, worn over my shoulders with one button fastened to keep this pretend royal cape from falling off.
Even before the advent of the kinds of professional-looking costumes kids wear today (the kind they order online from any one of the many fancy Purim cum Halloween costume websites that abound), there were Jewish kids whose parents were already trying to take Purim to the next level. How I envied my best friend, who was one year dressed like a real clown and the next like a blossoming tulip. Where, I wondered, did her mother (who I knew did not sew them herself) find such complex costumes made out of high quality, colorful satin? How did she manage to get a flower headdress whose petals miraculously never floppily wilted?
I finally had to come to terms with the fact that my mom was just not that creative—or competitive—when it came to Purim costumes. "Why do you need to be a tulip?" she asked? "I don't remember any tulips in the Purim story. But Queen Esther, now that's a classic that will never go out of style," she tried to assure me. "And besides, you look gorgeous in my housecoat."
So, the upshot of all this is that today, as a mother myself, I never limit my children's Purim costume options to the story's characters. But at the same time, I am not inclined to buy them commercially produced ones. It was only once I grew up that I realized that there was a method to my mother's Purim costume madness, namely that she was ahead of her time in promoting the concept behind the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra our kids know so well today. Thus, my sons have used cardboard boxes, scraps of material and arts supplies we had laying around the house to turn themselves into LEGO bricks and iPods on the 14th of Adar.
As for the other aspects of the holiday? Let's just say that, luckily for my children, I have had a complicated relationship only with what we wear on Purim, and never with what we eat. It doesn't matter whether hamentashen are homemade or store bought, large or small, prune or chocolate-chip filled. We happily and hungrily eat them all.