Every year around this time, we all ask the same basic question: “What do I want to give for mishloach manos this year?” But no one really asks, “What do the people around me want to get?” Isn’t it about the receiver?
“No. I have a theme.”
Unfortunately, you have 500 receivers (fortunately?), and you don’t really have that kind of time. So is there something that everyone wants?
And the answer is: no.
First things first, let’s get this out of the way: The best food to give — the thing everyone wants — is matzah and wine. Period. Everyone will love you. And the next year, people you barely even know will give you specifically because they hear that you give out matzah and wine. You’ll have so many people giving you that you won’t be able to get rid of all the chametz you get. So by all means, do not give out matzah and wine. You have to think of yourself, too.
But aside from that, based on some research (my wife and I asked around), it turns out that every single person prefers to get something different. Some people like homemade food, for example, because they feel it’s more personal. It’s something they can’t get in the store. Because we’re all adults here; we know how to go to the store.
Personally, what I want most is to not have to come home at night after the seudah and make piles: “This stuff has to be finished before Pesach. This stuff goes in the cabinet. This stuff goes in the loose-candy bin. Here are all the little drinks we have that we’re totally going to forget about.”
This is why I can’t drink. I can’t sort this stuff drunk. The next day I’m going to be like, “Where did I put the 18 tiny bags of pretzels? No idea. I hope I find them before Pesach.”
I don’t want that. What I want is something I can eat on Purim. If you give me some kind of real food that I can eat for lunch instead of trying to sustain a full-grown adult (and then some) for an entire day of running around on nothing but the loose nosh that no one bothered wrapping properly, that’s my favorite. I don’t have time to think about lunch on Purim.
I also like homemade cookies, because you can really taste the love in them. Not even necessarily love for other people. Just love for cookies.
On the other hand, with the exception of cookies, homemade food is usually perishable. This was some people’s biggest issue. People are like, “I don’t know how long this has been out of the fridge before it got to me.”
Yeah, like you don’t make your kid a tuna sandwich at eight in the morning that he’s going to eat in school at one.
Maybe it’s not about how long it sat in the other person’s car — which is cold, by the way; it’s about how long it sat in your house until you decided to go through it. If it’s too cold for your kids to deliver mishloach manos without putting on coats over their costumes, the perishable food on your doorstep will be fine.
Personally, I don’t know of anyone who ever got food poisoning from mishloach manos. On the other hand, I do know loads of people who have thrown up on Purim, and I always just assumed it was the alcohol.
Now I’m not so sure.
Another complaint that I’ve heard is, “The homemade foods are too small. I’m not putting a one-person-sized kugel on my table for the Purim seudah.”
Who said anything about the Purim seudah? I’m not cooking for your family. If I gave you a chocolate bar, would your reaction be, “Just one? What about my kids?” No, you’d eat it quietly, in the closet. The kids aren’t coming after your kugel. You could eat that in the open. You’re welcome.
So those were the two main opinions about what people want to receive. Not one person said they wanted a ton of fake grass.
My point is that everyone wants something different, and that’s impossible, so you might as well just give everyone the same thing — whatever’s convenient for you. Or fun for you to make.
That’s why some people give out a theme. No one said that they want a theme. People give out themed mishloach manos so that the recipient can go, “Oh. A theme.” And that’s it. Or not even realize that there is a theme because it’s been cannibalized before they got a chance to look at it. Then they find the piece of paper at the bottom and say, “Oh, it was a theme. What did they give?”
“No idea. It’s … somewhere.”
Fortunately, this isn’t usually a problem, because people who give out a theme usually hang out at the door so you can look at their mishloach manos and realize it’s a theme. They just stand there, and you’re not sure if you can shut the door in their faces, or if they can’t see out of their masks and are waiting for you to turn them around and point them at their cars, and they’re like, “So did you get the theme yet?” Like the thing that took them weeks to put together is something you’re going to figure out in ten seconds with your front door open. And you say, “Sure … it’s … um …” And then they tell you. So that’s fun.
I also feel like I should point out that, in general, themed mishloach manos are the hardest to sort after Purim. The theme is rarely “Foods that a sane person would eat together.”
Some themes are based around that. For example, in 2017, when Purim was the Sunday that we changed the clocks, we got 80 coffee cups filled with breakfast foods. And that was great, because, like I said, meal themes are reminders to eat healthy that day. I ate 40 healthy breakfasts.
The one caveat to that theme was that by the time you’re finished giving out your mishloach manos, it’s not really breakfast time anymore. You’re delivering people breakfast at four in the afternoon.
“Hm. Did I even have breakfast today?”
“I don’t know. Here.”
And the good news is that whatever you do one year is not necessarily what you have to do every year. You can change it up.
For example, last year my wife and I gave out rolls, primarily because we’d made a bar mitzvah shortly before Purim for which we’d bought 120 rolls and had over 100 left. We also gave out tuna, pickles, and hot peppers, and a bottle of water. Some people told us afterwards that they loved it, and some people probably tossed the tuna immediately after they got it. It was pretty inexpensive, and it was a decent lunch, but it was a pain to put together. I had to make tiny containers of tuna and handle the hot peppers, and I had to remember not to scratch my nose, so that was pretty much all I wanted to do.
But my wife was excited about it, because that was the first year that we actually got compliments. Most years, we’ve given out whatever was on sale, but everyone knows what’s on sale, because at that point there was exactly one grocery in town. We never got compliments on those. But probably no one threw anything out either.
Though it could be that we didn’t get compliments because we never did a theme. People were disappointed. Everyone expects me to have some kind of funny theme, as a humor writer, but it’s food. No one specifically eats a food because it’s funny. I’d rather give out a food that just tastes funny.
So we changed it up from candy to real food. My wife assures me that it’s not about us getting older, it’s about the people we’re giving getting older. Which it just now occurs to me is not something I should have put in an article.
On the other hand, I think that when you send real food and your recipients appreciate it, that’s only because everyone else sends nosh. If everyone would send real food (i.e., perishables), people would get annoyed.
The weird thing about mishloach manos is that any other day of the year, if someone handed you a wrapped candy bar, you would just eat it, but if they gave you a roll and some tuna, you would give them the third degree:
“Where did this come from? What’s wrong with this? Why are you giving it to me?”
“No, you can eat it for lunch! Instead of just candy, like usual.”
“Well, that’s patronizing. Seriously, where has it been?”
“It’s from our bar mitzvah.”
We’re giving out rolls again this year, and everyone is now going to ask us if they’re from the bar mitzvah.
Well, the ones who remember what we gave out last year, anyway. So I wouldn’t say this is a problem.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.