Purim apes Carnival

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PurimSo if Purim is not, as Lauren Markoe reports, the Jewish Halloween, what is it? The Jewish Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras is the culmination of the carnival season, when premodern Christians began dressing up in costume, overeating and overdrinking, and parading around in a demonstration of the world turned upside down. On Purim (which begins this Saturday), Jews dress up in costume, overeat and overdrink, and celebrate a holiday that’s all about them turning the tables on their oppressors. (See the Book of Esther.)

Both holidays are over-the-top enactments of secular liberation in anticipation of the serious commemorations of divine liberation to come. It takes Christians about a month to get to Easter, Jews a month to get to Passover. As in so much of the Judeo-Christian tradition, both sides travel parallel tracks, largely unaware of the parallels.

  • Lin Jenkins

    While the article notes some very real similarities, your headline is both insensitive and incorrect. Which came first? Purim has been celebrated since at least the Second Century (CE); Mardi Gras/Carnival probably has its origins in the Middle Ages. Both actually can be traced back to Persian or Roman celebrations such as the Roman Lupercalia.

    I realize the writer generally doesn’t pick the headline, but it’s still problematic at best. I hope it can be changed.

    (And I’m not Jewish, btw– I’m Episcopalian.)

  • Here at RNS blogs we write our own headlines, so there’s no excuses there. However, the kind of carnivalesque celebration of Purim is a late development in Judaism; according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the masquerading was borrowed from the Roman Carnival of the Renaissance. Middle Eastern Jews did not celebrate Purim this way until the late 19th century. So I’ll stand by the headline.