March 16 = Purim (Jewish)
We kicked off our holiday week with Purim from the Jewish tradition. Like Muslim holidays, Jewish holy days begin the evening before at sundown, so Purim began last Saturday. Purim falls on a particular day in the Jewish calendar (generally, the 14th day of Adar), so it moves around a bit on our civil calendar. It is associated with a variety of activities, all of which can be adapted for kids.
Reading the book of Esther – Purim celebrates the story found in the Biblical book of Esther. In that story, King Ahasuerus’ right-hand man, Haman, organizes a plot to kill all the Jewish people. Esther, the queen, and her cousin, Mordecai, foil the evil plot. In synagogues around the world, the book of Esther is read on Purim. If you have a Bible around, I highly recommend it. It’s a great story that’s not horribly long. Several kid-friendly versions are available. Start by checking out The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale by Eric A. Kimmel (auth.) and Jill Weber (illus.), or The Queen who Saved her People by Tilda Balsley (auth.) and Ilene Richard (illus.). Cake and Miracles: A Purim Tale by Barbara Diamond Goldin (auth.) and Jaime Zollars (illus.) offers a more modern-day look at a family celebrating the holiday.
It is common practice to make noise when the name of Haman, the bad guy, is read. You can do this by yelling or clapping, but you could also make a noise-maker. There are official-looking noisemakers, but you can make a simple one by filling a toilet paper tube with beans, sealing off both ends, and decorating it.
Making Hamantaschen – One of the traditional foods eaten on Purim is hamantaschen, a triangular pastry. The dough was traditionally filled with a poppy seed filling, but nowadays, people stuff the pastries with fillings made of dates, various fruits, and even chocolate. Again, there are traditional ways to make the pastries, but a very easy recipe can be found at:
Donating to Charity and/or Exchanging Gifts of Food – Parents are always looking for ways to encourage their children to think of others. Purim offers several opportunities since donating to charity and exchanging gifts of food are traditional activities on this holy day. You could calculate the cost of a meal and donate that amount to a needy family or local food bank. You could make a food basket for a special friend or elderly neighbor. You could volunteer to work at a food bank. You could make a meal for someone who lives alone or is mourning the loss of a loved one. There are traditional guidelines for these various gifts/donations, but it’s probably makes more sense to focus on the giving rather than the rules.
Wearing Masks – A relatively late addition to the holiday (from an historical perspective) is the wearing of costumes and masks. Little girls love to dress up as princesses/queens. In fact, there was a princess costume contest at our local Purim celebration, Purim Palooza. You can also decorate your own masks. Plain plastic masks cost about $1 each at craft stores. With scissors, glue, and construction paper, you can make some fairly spectacular crafts in no time. Slightly older kids enjoy adding feathers and other decorative details using hot glue guns.
March 16 = Magha Puja Day (Buddhist)
Magha Puja occurs on the full moon of the third lunar month, so it is generally celebrated in March. Magha Puja commemorates a miraculous event in the Budhha’s life. About nine months after achieving enlightenment, on a full moon night, 1,250 Enlightened Ones, who had been ordained by the Buddha himself, spontaneously arrived at a grove in northern India to pay their respects to the Buddha. The meeting had not been planned. While assembled, the Buddha shared with them the foundations of Buddhist teachings – refrain from bad action, engage in good action, and purify the mind.
Magha Puja is an important Buddhist festival, particularly in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, so you could start by showing your kids where these countries are on a map/globe. For practicing Buddhists, the holy day involves going to the temple after dark with candles, incense, and flowers. Everyone walks, clockwise, around the temple with their lit candles. They circle the temple three times in honor of the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma. (The Sangha refers to a community of Buddhists. On Magha Puja, special attention is paid to monastic Buddhists, since it was a group of traveling monks who returned to the grove on that first wondrous day. The Dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha.)
So what could you do with your kids to celebrate Magha Puja? You could set up a small altar with flowers and incense, light candles, and walk around the altar clockwise three times. You could light 1,250 candles in honor of each Enlightened One who met the Buddha on the first Magha Puja, but just a few candles would probably do the trick. You could help your kids clean their rooms, since cleaning one’s home is a traditional activity for many Buddhist holidays. You could read a book about Buddhism. My Buddhist Year by Cath Senker is a good place to start, and it includes a couple of pages on Magha Puja. Or, you could read one of the many Jataka tales. These stories tell about the previous lives of the future Buddha and may have been told by the Buddha himself. One of my favorite collections is Buddha at Bedtime by Dharmachari Nagaraja. Finally, since meditation is such an important part of Buddhist practice, you could lead your kids in a 5-10 minute guided meditation. If you are not comfortable leading them in your own guided meditation, or if you want ideas to get you started, check out some of the meditation-for-kids videos on You Tube. I’ve provided links to several that I like. In all cases, the kids can close their eyes and listen, or they can watch the video footage while they listen. The last link is probably better suited to slightly older children.
March 17 = St. Patrick’s Day (Christian)
St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Since most people are familiar with the holiday and ways to celebrate it with children, I won’t spend a lot of time on it here. There are several children’s books about the holiday, but if you want to check one out from your local library, you need to get a jump on the crowds. Below are links to a couple of sites that offer numerous ideas for crafts and activities. And don’t forget…you can turn almost any food or drink green with a bit of food coloring. Everyone loves a shamrock milkshake or green mashed potatoes!
March 17 = Holi (Hindu)
Holi is the Hindu spring festival, usually celebrated during the full moon in March. As with most Hindu festivals, the details vary from region to region. In general, however, it celebrates the victory of good over evil and is marked by three main activities: evening bonfires, throwing colored powder on people, and spraying one another with water that can also be colored or scented. One legend associated with Holi focuses on Holika, the evil sister of the arrogant king, Hiranyakashipu. The king’s son, Prahlada, refused to worship his father and instead remained devoted to Lord Vishnu. Following several unpleasant, but unsuccessful, attempts to kill Prahlada, he is tricked into joining his aunt, Holika, on a huge fire. Against all odds, Holika dies and Prahlada survives.
One obvious way to celebrate Holi is to have a bonfire, which is not a bad idea since it’s still fairly cold at this time of the year in many places in the U.S. Another simple way to celebrate Holi is to have a water fight, which may or not be a great idea since it’s still fairly cold this time of the year in many places in the U.S. There are several kids’ books about Holi. Two that I have used in the past are Holi (Rookie Read-About-Holidays) by Uma Krishnaswami and Holi (Celebrations in My World) by Lynn Peppas.
But Holi is probably most widely known for the throwing of colored powder. The question then becomes: where does one get colored powder? You can buy Holi powder, also called “gulal,” from India, but the safety of those powders is sometimes questionable for kids. There are also several web sites and You Tube videos that offer recipes for making your own powder. They tend to involve cornstarch, lots of food coloring, overnight drying time or ovens, and sifters or food processors. I design a lot of crafts for our Sunday school curriculum, and these recipes do not look particular easy to me. I recommend either Festival of Colors or Color My Party. Both companies offer safe, cornstarch-based colored powders at reasonable prices and in small quantities. Throw on some inexpensive or well-worn t-shirts and have a blast!
March 17 = Hola Mohalla (Sikh)
As sacred holidays go, Hola Mohalla is relatively new. It was started by the tenth (and final living) Sikh guru in 1701 in the northwestern Punjab region of India. Once again, you could begin by showing your kids where this is on a map/globe. You could also show them pictures of Sikh men who have chosen to wear their uncut hair in a Sikh turban. The turban is one of the symbols that identifies these men as baptized Sikhs.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion existing, more or less peacefully, in the midst of Hinduism. Hola Mohalla was instituted, in part, as an answer to the Hindu holiday of Holi, which is why they are celebrated at roughly the same time. Hola Mohalla is a joyous festival that originally focused on the martial arts skill and military prowess of the Sikh people. Today, the holiday is celebrated with three days of processions, mock battles, daredevil horseback riding, poetry, and kirtan (chanting). Sikh houses of worship, called gurdwaras, are decorated, and everyone eats food together during open-air community meals. The Sikh people are also associated with several interesting instruments. These include stringed instruments, such as the dilruba, taus and rabab; percussion instruments, such as the jori which is similar to the tabla; and very large war drums that measure several feet in diameter.
So how can you share Hola Mohalla with your kids? There aren’t many kids’ books about Sikhism, but you might start with Sikh Gurdwara (Places of Worship) by Kanwaljit Kaur-Singh or I Belong to the Sikh Faith by Katie Dicker and Singh Perihar. You could also cook up a meal and invite a few people to share it with you. Serving free meals to all people, regardless of color, religion, age, or social status, was one of the founding practices of Sikhism. It ran counter to the caste system prevalent in India at the time and was intended to symbolize the oneness of all humankind. Many times, vegetarian meals are served to ensure that even those with dietary restrictions can join in. You could also listen to some of the Sikh music available on You Tube. The sound is very distinctive, and even young children can perceive that it is quite different from western music that they are already developing an ear for. Here are a few links to get you started.
March 20 = Spring Equinox/Mabon/Ostara (Pagan/Wiccan)
And last, but certainly not least, we have the pagan/wiccan holiday that honors the spring equinox. The spring and fall equinoxes roughly refer to the two days of the year when day and night are the same length. Any craft or activity that honors rebirth, new growth, or balance can be appropriate for the spring equinox. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
A great way to welcome spring is to get going on that garden you’ve been thinking about. Just be careful because it’s still very early in the growing season. In general, greens such as kale, lettuce, and spinach can be planted before the last spring frost date. If you’re not sure when the last spring frost date is for your region, several websites can calculate it based on a zip code or the name of a U.S. city. Onions and root vegetables (such as carrots, radishes, potatoes, and beets) can also be planted early in the growing season. If you have your heart set on plants that should be sown later in the year — like tomatoes, peppers, or cucumbers — get them started in pots near your windows. The important point is to greet spring by getting your hands in the dirt.
Eggs symbolize new life, which is why they show up in various creation stories. Pretty much anything you can think of to do with eggs is appropriate for spring equinox. Head to a farmer’s market (or better yet, an actual farm) and buy some fresh eggs. Go home and whip up some egg dishes. If you don’t celebrate Easter, decorate eggs for spring equinox instead. The pre-made dye kits might not be available in stores yet since Easter falls near the end of April this year, but you can easily make your own dye with ½ cup of boiling water, 1tsp. of white vinegar, and 10 drops of food coloring (which you can combine to create other colors). There are also many ways to decorate Easter eggs without dyeing them. You can apply glue and glitter, you can use stickers and markers (permanent Sharpie markers work well), or you can glue on googly eyes and make faces. If you want to stick with the nature theme, make an egg shaker. Punch a nickel-sized hole in an egg. Dump out the contents and clean with a bit with warm water. Add some rice, bird seed, or dried peas. Plug up the hole with dough or clay. Now shake! And finally, all my pagan/wiccan friends tell me that you can balance a raw egg outside on the ground (wide end down) for a few minutes before and after the exact time of the equinox. This is the time when the sun crosses over the celestial equator, which is actually the most accurate definition of the equinox. There are several web sites that can calculate this precise moment for your hometown. For Asheville, NC in 2014, the equinox will occur at 12:57PM on Thursday, March 20. And I will be outside with my raw egg!
Focus on Balance
Since daylight and darkness are roughly in balance on the spring equinox, you could focus on finding balance in your life. For younger kids, you might take a physical approach to that idea with one-footed games or hopping activities. For older kids, or yourself, you might take a more metaphorical approach. If something in your life is feeling out of whack, now’s the time to get things back on track.
It’s a big holiday week, partly because of the full moon and partly because it’s springtime. There are lots of opportunities for celebrating, so get started. Your kids are waiting. If nothing else, just go outside and do a little spring jig. Everyone else around the world is!
[In our Multifaith Mashup columns, we explore a topic from a variety of faith traditions and sacred texts. To see other columns, search our blog using the Multifaith Mashup tag. These columns are representative of the middle school Sunday School curriculum, and to a certain extent, the upper elementary Sunday School curriculum we developed at Jubilee! Community Church in Asheville, NC.]