I have done absolutely nothing for Purim this year (beyond telling the person who organizes the synagogue gift exchange to put us down for everyone because the price for everyone is the same as if we bought just for the people we would have given anyway *and* there was the dinner thing, so it's kinda something we should do. Anyway, that doesn't count for actual mischloach manot, according to our rabbi. It's just a way of fundraising for the synagogue and also so we don't need to give them other gifts.)
The rules of Purim observance are as follows:
1. Listening to the Book of Esther in the evening and during the day.
2. Giving to the poor.
3. Giving a gift of at least two kinds of food to a friend during the day - food that can be eaten immediately without further prep, although so long as there are two such items, you can also give nice tea bags or coffees or such.
4. Having a festive meal during the day.
The official customs of Purim are these:
1. Wearing costumes. Cross-dressing is permitted.
2. Blotting out the sound of Hamon's name as it comes up in the reading, usually using noisemakers. This is fun Purim night and, often, perfunctory Purim morning. I've discovered that a full key ring makes a great "grogger".
3. Getting drunk. This is, of course, the favorite custom for teenage boys.
4. Performing little skits, called "Purim Shpiels". This is often combined with 1 and 3.
5. Writing parodies of religious articles and putting out parody issues of magazines and newspapers. We call these "Purim Torahs. "
6. The custom of "half-shekels." We are required, as part of the Torah census taking, to give "half shekels" before Pesach. This is when most people do it - synagogues put out three silver dollars. We buy them by donating money, pick them up and put them back down again. (Yes, we're changing money. And we usually put in more money than we need to - but this goes to the synagogue itself.)
The unofficial customs of Purim are:
1. Buying/sending the most elaborate packages possible
2. Recycling goodies for last minute gifts
3. Throwing up in the street because the last time you got this drunk was a year ago (second favorite custom for yeshiva boys.)
As you can see, Purim has aspects of most major non-Jewish holidays - gifts, food, costumes and drinking, plus religious services. Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving *and* Halloween! (Except, you know - the kids *deliver* treats instead of demand them.)
So. Our plans? This year, Purim is Saturday night, which means the fast is pushed back to Thursday, not that I fast. And it also means there's no time between Shabbat and the first reading to put on a costume.
We'll give out the mishloach manot on Sunday. This year, given my lack of planning, will be gift bags with pretzels, hamentaschen, fruit, grape juice and recycled goodies. The seudah, which we hope will include brother, mom and future stepdad, will be Middle Eastern Lamb Stew and couscous. If we can get my brother-in-law and his family, *he'll* get salmon. The synagogue takes care of the charity - usually, something that goes directly to feeding the poor. We just give them money.
And Monday morning? All those goodies? Turn into chametz. :)