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Mid Winter Festival

Michelle Van Loon

One damp, cold Saturday afternoon in early March, an energetic group of kids from church and a few of their friends and neighbors showed up to attend our first Midwinter Festival. They'd been hearing about it for weeks, and they were all bursting at the seams to show off their costumes. Quite a few camera-toting parents came along, also in costume. Robots, angels, girls in their mothers' "ancient" prom dresses, and even a great big lizard entered the streamer-covered room. We were glad to see that our announcements encouraging positive character costumes had paid off with a roomful of creative get-ups.

Everyone took time to show off their costumes while Messianic Jewish music played in the background.

We formed teams and played a couple of all-ages relay games. Next we had a Queen Esther fashion show. One of our gregarious church members, who'd volunteered in advance, had groups of kids come up on "stage" as he interviewed each child about his or her costume.

After the fashion show, everyone enjoyed snacks, including the traditional three-cornered Purim treat, hamantaschen (HAH-mahn-tah-shuhn). Punch and lots of other yummy munchies, along with more music, provided an informal setting for everyone to get to know each other.

Then everyone gathered for a retelling of the Esther story. We used a simplified narrative version of the biblical account while our audience booed loudly every time Haman's name was mentioned and cheered like crazy every time either Esther or Mordecai was named. Telling it this way turned it into a "good guys vs. bad guys" melodrama and painted the story in children's imaginations. Our storyteller avoided sermonizing, but took a couple of moments at the end of the story to tell children that they could get to know more about the God who saved Esther. We made sure the children knew they could talk further with any adult helper at our festival. Hugs and thank yous brought our party to a satisfying close.

Wouldn't you love to throw an unforgettable costume party during the peak of cabin-fever season, educate your congregation about an amazing Old Testament story, do some creative outreach, and have a blast all at the same time? You can do all those things with this Midwinter Festival, based on the book of Esther.

The traditional Jewish celebration of Purim celebrates Esther's story. Purim always comes in late winter. This holiday is filled with masks and costumes (deriving from either Esther's concealment of her Jewish identity or Haman's mistaken belief that the king's reward was for him), noisemakers, delicious foods, games, gifts of charity, and a retelling of the biblical story. As well as giving us a creative idea for a late-winter party, our Purim celebration helped us share an important story with our children.

Esther's is an amazing story of God's deliverance of his people. It's the one book of the Bible where God's name is never mentioned, yet God's sovereignty and deliverance are imprinted on every word of this miraculous account. Esther's bravery has much to teach us today.

Esther was a beautiful and courageous young woman who lived in an anti-God culture. She could've remained silent about her belief in the one true God and no one around her would've been the wiser, but her beloved uncle Mordecai's unflinching reminder to her is at the heart of the challenge for our children today:

"Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14, NIV).

Giving our children biblical heroes, wonderful memories, and joyful times together may help them learn to stand just as Esther did.

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN

If you'd like to have a Midwinter Festival, secure a location and set a date for a Saturday afternoon in early March. About six weeks before the event, enlist your adult helpers. Ideally you'll need one person to oversee a few all-ages games, one person to handle food arrangements, one person responsible for decorating and selecting the paper goods, a humorous emcee, and one person who excels at hammy storytelling. Of course, these jobs can be combined if necessary. If you expect a big crowd, form a committee for each task.

About three to four weeks before your party, announce the event in your adult church services and in your Sunday school classes. A simple announcement might read: "Everyone is welcome to join us from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, for our Midwinter Festival. Dress as wild and crazy as you can. Have lots of fun creating a positive, amazing costume. There will be food, music, games, and more! Invite your friends to join us for a wonderful afternoon that'll help chase away those midwinter blues." You might want to include a few lines of historical background about Esther and the Feast of Purim in a flier or your church bulletin. Encourage all adult party helpers to read through the book of Esther in advance.

GAMES

ESTHER WRAP

Form teams of four to six. Give each team a roll of toilet paper. Have each team choose an "Esther." On "go," teams each race to completely "dress" their Esther using the entire roll of toilet paper. The first team to finish wins the game.

BLANKET STAND

Form teams of four to six. Give each team a blanket, and tell them to stand on it. Then have each team step off, fold the blanket in half, and stand on it again. The goal is for a team to fold its blanket the most times and still have all its teammates fit onto it.

BALLOON SURPRISE

Before the party, write 10 actions on separate slips of paper such as sing a song, skip in a circle, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and say your middle name. Insert a slip into each balloon. Inflate and tie off the balloons.

Have everyone stand in a circle and pass one balloon around as quickly as possible while music plays. When the music stops, the person with the balloon pops it and does whatever the direction inside prompts. Continue playing until all the balloons are popped.

PRETZEL PASS

For this game, you'll need a bag of rod pretzels and a bag of twist pretzels. Form teams of eight to 10, then give each person a rod pretzel. Have teams line up single file. The first person in each line holds the rod pretzel in his mouth, and a "line judge" slips a twist pretzel over its end. This person race-walks to the other end of the room with the pretzels, then returns to the next player, and passes the twist pretzel on to the next team member, without using any hands. This continues until every player has had a turn. The line judge offers new pretzels if teams' pretzels hit the floor.

PARTY POINTERS

MENU

Fresh fruits and nuts are a part of a traditional Purim celebration. Round out your menu by adding cookies, cupcakes (decorated with small Israeli flags, if you like), lemonade or punch, and big bowls of popcorn. You'll also need hamantaschen. Any celebration of the Esther account wouldn't be complete without a plateful of these delicious pastries. This snack, named after Esther's nemesis, is supposed to look like the evil Haman's hat. Simple to make, they'll add an authentic touch to your party. See the recipe on this page.

DECORATIONS

Set a festive mood with bright tablecloths, colorful balloons, and streamers. One of our church members created a series of mural-size wall decorations from rolls of newsprint. The murals included a simple time line placing Esther in history (most scholars set the account during the years 485-465 B.C., the same time period as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah), a newspaper-style headline celebrating Esther's accomplishments such as "Esther Saves her People," and a few brightly lettered quotes from the book of Esther. Sparkling crowns, fashioned from silver paper, can dangle from the ceilings or adorn the serving table.

EMCEE

Your emcee will help move people from event to event. This person can welcome everyone, then announce the games. The most important job is introducing each costumed child in the fashion show. This person should be funny, gentle, and gregarious as he or she introduces each child. The emcee should also offer a prayer before the kids dive into the snacks.

HAMANTASCHEN

(HAH-mahn-tah-shuhn)

Ingredients:

4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Water
Grated rind of either one lemon or one orange
Apricot jam, canned poppy seed filling, and/or the traditional canned prune filling

Directions:

Mix dry ingredients. Add eggs, oil, and grated rind. Mix thoroughly. Add enough water to make a sticky dough. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into 4-inch rounds. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Fold over edges of each round and pinch three corners to form a triangle. Place on a greased baking sheet in a 375 degree oven.

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