Celebrated every year on the 14th of Adar (usually falling in February or March) Purim is a joyous Jewish holiday. It commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people from the plot of the wicked Haman, who sought to exterminate them in ancient Persia. The holiday has many customs and traditions that make it a fun and meaningful time to connect with Jewish heritage.
Origins of Purim
The story of Purim can be found in the biblical Book of Esther. It takes place during the reign of King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I) of Persia, who ruled over a vast empire stretching from India to Ethiopia. One day King Ahasuerus’s wife, Queen Vashtishe refused to obey his command to appear before him at a feast, he banished her immediately and held a beauty contest in hopes to find a new queen.
Esther, a Jewish orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai, won the contest and became the queen of Persia. She kept her Jewish identity hidden. Meanwhile, the king’s wicked adviser, Haman, was plotting to exterminate the Jewish people after Mordecai refused to bow down to him. Infuriated, Haman convinced the king to issue a decree to kill all Jews throughout the empire.
Mordecai urged Esther to reveal her Jewish identity and appeal to the king to rescind the decree. Esther bravely risked her life by approaching the king. Granting her request to save her people, the Jews were allowed to defend themselves and emerge victorious. The holiday of Purim was established to commemorate this salvation.
Here are some of the most common practices:
Reading the Megillah
- The Megillah is the scroll that contains the story of Esther. Read aloud in synagogues and community centers twice on Purim, the reading is often accompanied by creative interpretations and theatrical performances, making it an entertaining and engaging experience.
Costumes and Masks
- One of the most popular customs of Purim is dressing up in costumes and masks. This tradition originated from the fact that Esther concealed her Jewish identity, and it symbolizes the idea of hiding and revealing. Children and adults alike enjoy dressing up as characters from the Purim story, as well as other fun and creative costumes.
- Mishloach Manot is the practice of sending gifts of food to friends and family on Purim. Fostering goodwill and camaraderie, it also ensures that everyone has enough to eat during the holiday. The gifts typically include at least two different types of food or drink, and it is customary to include hamantaschen, a triangular pastry filled with sweet or savory fillings.
- Hamantaschen or Ozney Haman, (Haman’s ears/hat) are delicious cookies typically filled with some type of sweet or savory fillings. Baking and sharing hamantaschen is a beloved tradition that brings people together during the holiday.
- Giving to charity is an important aspect of Purim. It is customary to give gifts to the poor, as well as to donate to other charitable causes. The Jewish value of tzedakah, or righteous giving, helps ensure that everyone can enjoy the holiday regardless of their financial means.
Purim is a unique and joyful Jewish holiday that offers a great opportunity to connect with one’s Jewish roots. By participating in customs and traditions such as reading the Megillah, dressing up in costumes, sharing Mishloach Manot, baking hamantaschen, and giving to charity, individuals can experience and embrace the rich cultural heritage of Judaism. The story of Purim also teaches important lessons. Standing up to oppression, taking action to defend oneself and others, and the power of faith and courage in the face of adversity. Celebrating Purim can be a meaningful way to honor and celebrate Jewish identity. It also strengthens connections with other members of the Jewish community.
For more ideas on how to celebrate Purim – go to our Purim page