Mid Winter Festival

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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.

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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.

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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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