Monday, January 5, 2009

Upsherin AKA the BIG 3!

This blogging thing is great!!
Ok, so if you have a little boy who is about to turn 3 and you still haven't cut off his gorgeous locks, this posting may be helpful to you. Since I like doing things nice and early, I have already begun thinking about what I would like to do for Eitan's upsherin.
So the dilemma is this, do we make it a big big party with lots of entertainment, or do we just do a small thing where Misha will take him to Cheder and the family will perform the ceremonial cutting. By the way, Ruslana, I promise, you can still give him his first official haircut:) Talk about free advertising. If anyone out there is getting married and needs a nice up-do (or down-do), I love going to Lana Abelev at the salon in Carson Pirie Scott in Wilmette:)
Anyway, back to upsherins. Since we have still not decided what route to take regarding the upcoming celebration, I have decided to collect as many ideas as possible from various sources and post them here for your enjoyment. Feel free to use any and all information as well as add your own pointers.
For those of you reading this blog and wondering, what the heck is an upsherin, let me clue you in. I am sure many of you have noticed little Jewish boys who look more like hippies or girlie girls with their light or dark locks all over the place. Sometimes the locks will be in a ponytail making the child look as girlie as ever. Why do this to your child you ask? Well, according to old Jewish customs, a man is compared to a tree. Just as a tree is not supposed to be harvested during the first three years of its existence, a boy's hair should not be cut during the first three years of his life. Turning three years old symbolizes the boy's entry into the adult society, it is a time when he begins observing the Mitzvot and learning Torah. He is now a toddler instead of a baby he has been up until this point.
-hold the upsherin at a holy place, such as a synagogue, however, people can also host the event at a home or other venue of their choice in order to accommodate their individual traditions and number of attendees.
-light refreshments and hors d'oeuvres are standard fare.
-the parents of the child should bring a Tzedakkah box to the Upsherin for their son to hold so that the guests can give him money to put in the box as they cut his hair. The money can then be donated to any organization or individual (preferably Jewish).
-the first person to cut the hair of the child should be an important spiritual leader for the parents, i.e. a Rabbi they greatly respect.
-the first cut is generally performed in the spot where the child will one day place his Tefillin.
-the peyot or side-locks mandated by Torah law are left in tact as the first mitzvah of observance.
-Divrei Torah are always a welcome occurrence at an upsherin.
-prior to cutting the hair, it is customary for the child, together with a Rav, to go through the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and touch each letter with fingers covered in honey to symbolize the sweetness of learning Torah. Some people prefer making cupcakes or lolipops with the Hebrew letters on them and baking a Torah shaped cake.
-Jewish music and dancing around the child make the festivities that much more special.
-although many parents save their child's hair for posterity, some choose to donate it to organizations such as Locks of Love, where the hair can be used to make wigs for children with cancer. Others weigh the hair and give the equivalent of its weight to charity.
-if the child is outgoing, he is encouraged to recite the letters of the alphabet as well as sing a Hebrew song and recite blessings out loud.
-some of the key items a child receives at his upsherin are his first pair of tzitzit and his first kippah.
-there are many days in the Hebrew calendar when cutting of the hair is prohibited. If the 3rd birthday falls on one of these days, one should contact their local Rabbi for information on the next available date.
-gifts with Jewish connotations, i.e. books, stuffed Sifrei Torah, Jewish puzzles and games are all appropriate presents.
-it is nice to have an activity for children to work on during the party, which they can also take home as a party favor. For example, they can color and decorate a pushka and take it home with them to use as a Tzedakkah box. For more ideas, you can visit
-if you do choose to have an activity, it is a good idea to have one or two teenage girls supervising the kids.
-cakes can be a big deal at an upsherin. Some ideas for cakes are a Torah shaped cake, or cakes that look like a kippah or tzitzit. You can also make a cake that looks like a train using loaf pans and adding Aleph Beit to them. Other ideas are having small cupcakes and giving your guests a chance to do their own decorating with sprinkles, candies, etc. Or you can bake cookies with your child's Hebrew initials.
-here is a link to a booklet, which was created for a little boy's upsherin, which you can adapt to your own liking and hand out to your guests or mail it with the invitation so that they can familiarize themselves with the customs and traditions of an upsherin:
-families may choose to have additional entertainment for the kids at the upsherin, such as balloon artists, face-painters, caricaturists, etc. Some feel that activities such as this can take away from the spiritual significance of the event, i.e. people forget what they came for. I am not an expert on deciding what is better - having wild kids running around with nothing to do, or spending loads of money to make sure they are occupied, so I think it is up to each individual family to decide what works for them. After all, nobody knows your guests better then you, and if you don't know your guests, then you should probably not be inviting them:)
Good luck to all of you and may your son's upsherin be one of the many exciting milestones in his and your life! And remember, you always get an A+ for effort:)
Hope this helps and Good Luck!


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