This week, Christians and Jews alike are enjoying the benefits of approved inebriation. Purim began at sunset on Monday and—if you haven’t noticed all the shamrock decorations in store windows—St. Patrick’s Day is today.
Having been raised in neither the Catholic nor the Jewish tradition, I’m a tourist at both holiday celebrations, thus rendering me a completely objective judge about which holiday is better. That’s right. I’m here to pick a winner since they can’t both be equally awesome. If they were, we wouldn’t have all this hoopla in the Middle East.
Also, I hope you understand that just cause I’m writing this in a pub doesn’t mean I’m leaning in any particular direction.
St. Patrick’s Day: St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of—Wait. Can you get me another Guinness? No, four’s not too many for a woman my size. Just do it.
St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of, appropriately, St. Patrick. He was a fourth-century British guy taken prisoner by Irish raiders and held in captivity in Ireland for six years. During that time, he was forced to work all alone as a shepherd—to me this is questionable, not very Guantanamo-style captivity—and began having visions of God telling him to spread Christianity to the pagans of Ireland. He escaped from captivity, walked all the way to the Irish coast—which was something like 200 miles away—and convinced some sailors to let him hitch a ride back to Britain. Building on his Jesus-like experience as a shepherd, he entered the ministry, then decided to return to Ireland, this time as a missionary.
There’s a myth he banished all the snakes from Ireland, but that’s bunk because there were never any snakes in Ireland to begin with. Unlike the rest of the stories central to Christianity’s history, this one is symbolic: The snakes represent pagans. Goodbye, solstice; hello, Christmas. St. Patrick actually designed the Celtic cross that lots of guys have tattooed on their calves. Hot. He died on March 17 around the year 460, so that’s why the holiday’s always on March 17, even though that sometimes means you have to get drunk on a Monday.
Purim: The word Purim translates to “lots.” Not in terms of “you drink lots and lots,” but rather meaning lottery, because the bad guy in the Biblical story (on which Purim is based) chose which day was best for killing all the Jews by lottery.
Here’s the basic narrative: A gorgeous young Jewish woman named Esther married the king of Persia, who loved her so much more than all the other harem girls that he made her queen. It was—and still is—every girl’s dream. But the king didn’t know she was Jewish. And his adviser was a hateful man named Haman, who despised Esther’s cousin Mordecai because he wouldn’t bow down in front of him. So he made the next logical leap and concluded he should kill all the Jews.
Mordecai convinced Esther to try to talk to the king, even though approaching him without being summoned could get her killed. (That’s because women should speak only when spoken to.) But the king had read The Female Eunich and he welcomed her. Esther ‘fessed up to her Jewishness and told the king of Hamas’s (sorry, Haman’s) evil plot. The king saved the Jews and hung Haman.
So now, once a year, it’s customary to par-tay about not having been exterminated.
St. Patrick’s Day: Go to church in the morning, and then feast (on beer!) afterward. And don’t forget about the parades. The first ever St. Patrick’s Day parade was in New York City in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military put their nationalism on the table in what I can only imagine was a not very popular display. Today it’s hugely popular. In New York alone, three million people come out to watch the parade. When I say come out, I mean show up in person; gay people aren’t allowed to be in the parade unless they don’t make a point of being gay. If this upsets you, I recommend having another beer.
Want to kill all the Jews but worried about a bad rep? Fear not: You’ll be remembered as a cookie.In Chicago, they actually dye the river green. In New York—and just about everywhere else—people drink until they’re green. Interestingly, until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day was recognized more as a religious holiday in Ireland, and pubs across the country were closed. But thanks to tourism, things have a changed. In terms of food, Guinness is the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of choice. But if you’re weak and you want non-liquid food, the traditional meal is corned beef and cabbage. Up until the 19th century, when hordes of Irish people immigrated to the U.S., it was Irish bacon and cabbage. But then, the Irish learned from their new neighbors that corned beef was easier to come by and equally delicious. No one told them to do anything about the cabbage, which is a little unfortunate.
Purim: You get to dress up however you want on Purim. Green is not the limit. In fact, pink isn’t either; bans on cross-dressing are lifted on the holiday. It’s common to have beauty pageants on Purim. There are also thousands of historical (often campy) reenactments of the Book of Esther. At a Purim celebration earlier in the week, I watched one such reenactment in the company of people wearing stuff like rainbow robes (à la George Clinton), fake ‘fros, and kimonos. There was even a slutty shepherdess. (I wonder how St. Patrick would have felt about that.) During the reenactment, everyone boos and spins noise-makers each time Haman’s name is mentioned in order to “blot out” his name. Also, you eat hamentaschen on Purim, which translates to “Haman’s pockets.” It’s a flat-ish, triangular baked goodie filled with stuff like prunes or poppy seeds, representing Haman’s three-cornered hat. Want to kill all the Jews but worried about a bad rep? Fear not: You’ll be remembered as a cookie.
As far as I know, no one dyes any rivers on Purim. But technically you could dye a river any color at all to celebrate. Except red. Red would look freaky. Aside from dressing up, there’s the drinking, which is central to the celebration. Unless you’re a recovering alcoholic, you’re supposed to drink so much you can’t tell the difference between the hero and the villain in the Book of Esther. By the end of the night, I could not tell the difference between my date and the bartender. So I’d say I exceeded expectations.
Both holidays have their unique strengths and resonance, but St. Patrick’s Day has become too commercial. Green, green, everywhere, and tons and tons to drink. Not that I’m complaining, but when you really take a close look at the holidays’ significance, Purim stands out for its—Hold on a sec. Gimme just a minute. I’m feeling pretty sick. That fifth Guinness was a mistake. I can no longer tell the difference between the ceiling and the floor, which is probably not the point of either holiday. I’ll get right back to yofd;u h’kihyfe udgc ucx/ p9ux:o jjkjk;
Oh, sorry, my head hit the keys. But I’m OK now ;aduyf;bcxoiem api m[08ij z;iuhkjhkj haihy cx;lie hjxlkajlkw jfeliuf ;oiyu;oiu ‘iu
I just woke up. Sorry. How unprofessional of me to pass out mid-sentence. I usually only do that on Valentine’s Day. Between swigs of Pedialyte and fistfuls of Advil, I deem Purim the superior holiday. It hurt less. Also, it had noisemakers. Esther, I hope I’ve done your legacy proud.