By Cathleen Kronemer, J Fitness Staff

While kids of any age look forward to December all year long, anticipating eight fun-filled nights of gifts, dreidel spinning, latkes and chocolate “gelt” on Hanukkah, Judaism also features another grand and celebratory holiday, replete with costumes, parades, treats and plenty of noise-making frivolity!

Purim ranks as one of the most fun and entertaining of all the Jewish holidays. Celebrated this year on February 26, Purim commemorates the day that Queen Esther of Persia saved the Jewish people from execution by Haman, the duplicitous and evil advisor to the Persian King. Esther bravely exposed her hidden Jewish heritage to her husband the King, successfully convincing him to denounce Haman and save her people.

Part of the revelry during Purim services involves the retelling of the story (reading the Magillah): those assembled in the synagogue boo, hiss, and rattle noisemakers (graggers) at the mention of Haman. This custom serves the purpose of blotting out any utterance of the villain’s name. Other traditions include carnivals with children dressing up as their favorite characters from the Purim story. Such festivals feature treats, themed games and crafts for the little ones.

Each year, Jews the world over enjoy making and eating hamantaschen: sweet triangular-shaped stuffed pastries said to resemble Haman’s tri-cornered hat. Sweet hamantaschen are the most popular, plump with poppy seed, chocolate, date, apricot or apple filling.

Given that the Purim story took place in Persia, many Purim recipes feature chickpeas, a staple in Persian cuisine. One tradition tells of how Queen Esther, in order to keep kosher, ate only seeds and legumes while living in the King’s castle; this, in turn, led to a custom of eating chickpeas as well as other foods containing seeds or nuts during the holiday.

Preparing QUEEN ESTHER’S SALAD provides a healthy way of including these traditional foods:

Rinse and thoroughly dry 6 cups of mixed baby lettuce greens. Transfer to a bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of white or red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons oil, and salt /pepper to taste. Add in 2-3 tablespoons of toasted shelled sunflower seeds and 3 cups of either roasted chickpeas or toasted walnuts. Toss thoroughly. Serve sprinkled with sesame and/or poppy seeds.

This season, embrace the celebration of Purim with your friends and family. Most of us could use some uplifting, especially after the rough ride of the COVID-19 pandemic deflated much of our usual enthusiasm over the last 11 months. What better way to springboard from the recent celebration of Tu B’Shevat than to engage in some delicious and, ironically, planet-healthy “green” vegetarian foods while watching a costume parade during the Purim carnival! Don’t forget your noisemakers…drown out that Haman character one and for all!