What does henna have to do with Purim? A great question.
It’s possible that henna was one of the cosmetics that Esther used to make herself beautiful and win the heart of the king Ahashverosh. This is supported by a beautiful custom once practiced in the Kurdish Jewish community, known as khiyapit benatha, ‘the bath of the maidens’; the night before Purim, the young girls of the village would all be hennaed and told that they were as beautiful as Queen Esther. Here’s how Erich Brauer described it (1947: 281):
"The second bath, which the girls prepare with the wood they gathered, happens on lel Purim [Purim eve]. As a result of this additional bath, the maidens become as beautiful on Purim as Esther when she appeared before the king [Ahasuerus] — so they believe. For this reason, they call this bath khiyapit benatha, ase ileni shiprit Ister, ‘bath of the maidens, may the beauty of Esther come to us.’… Their mothers accompany them. Henna is prepared… Then each girl is dyed with henna (this is in Amadiyya). After the dyeing, mothers bathe their daughters and sing narike [a marriage song - the words are narine hai nare, the bride is adorned] the way they sing for a bride, and throw at them roses and nuts. Thus they bathe all the maidens one after another in a set order (this is in Amadiyya and Zakho).”
I love this tradition so much. I love that this ceremony involves all the girls of the village, and I love that they are told that they become as beautiful as Queen Esther. I love that the mothers sing songs to their daughters and shower them with treats. I love that it represents an innovative and uniquely-Jewish ritual that combines the symbolism of a Jewish holiday with henna’s local associations with beauty and celebration. And above all, I love that it reminds us that we have royalty inside of us, and that henna can bring that out! A powerful message for all of us to remember.
There’s a longer article about this on my blog. Check it out! And happy Purim!
We were a family once. I remember the love between you. How happy you were that I was your son. And I remember the day that we lost our Freya. And how we never got that happiness back. I remember it all. You should have stopped there. Instead you had them. The monsters you call children. And for that, you will all pay.