Purim is a Jewish festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from a genocidal plot during the Persian Empire. It is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, which usually falls in February or March. Let us explore the origins and history of Purim, its traditions as well as its importance.
Purim is a Hebrew word that means “lots” because Haman set a date for the execution (the 13th day of the month of Adar) by casting lots and building gallows for Mordecai. The holiday is also known as the Festival of Lots or the Feast of Esther, after the heroic Jewish queen who saved her people.
Purim’s Origins and History:
According to the biblical book of Esther, king Ahasuerus of Persia was convinced by his advisor Haman to issue an order to exterminate all the Jews in his empire as Haman alleged they were rebellious. Esther, a young Jewish woman who had become queen, risked her life by revealing her Jewish identity to the king and pleading for her people’s salvation. The king ultimately granted her request, and the Jews were able to attack their enemies on Adar 13. After a momentous victory, they declared the following day a holiday and named it Purim (alluding to the lots Haman had cast).
Traditions and Observances:
The Megillah Reading:
One of the main components of Purim celebration is the reading of the Megillah, also known as the Scroll of Esther. It is customary to read the Megillah in the synagogue twice, once in the evening and again the following morning. During the reading, the congregation is encouraged to make noise and drown out the name of Haman with noisemakers, called graggers.
Festive Meals and Feasting:
It is also a time for feasting and rejoicing. It is traditional to have a Purim Seudah (feast) on day of the festival. And it is customary to serve food at the Purim meal that has symbolic meaning linking to the Purim story like hamantaschen which are triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds or other sweet fillings. Kreplach is also popular during this festival. Another popular tradition is to serve a vegetarian meal as a nod to Queen Esther who is said to have maintained a veg diet to remain Kosher.
Charity and Gift-Giving:
An important aspect of the festival is matanot l’evyonim which is donating to charity and another important aspect is mishloach manot where you give food baskets to friends and family. This practice is a way of promoting unity and friendship among the Jewish community.
Put on a Costume:
A unique tradition of Purim is wearing costumes and masks. The most widely accepted reason for dressing up on Purim is to replicate Esther hiding her Jewish identity from the king. Some people also believe that the tradition originated in Italy. Today, people of all ages dress up in costumes, often related to the Purim story, and participate in costume contests and parades dressed up as Queen Esther, King Achaverosh, Mordechai, and Haman.
Other Traditions and Practices:
Other customs associated with Purim include fasting on the day before Purim, giving money to the poor, and reciting special prayers.
Purim Celebrations Around the World:
Although the basic traditions of Purim are followed by Jewish communities around the world, there are many variations and local twists in the way the holiday is celebrated. In France, children inscribe Haman’s name on smooth stones and strike them together repeatedly during the Megillah reading whenever his name is mentioned. And at the end of the reading, Haman’s name would be worn off the stones.
In Israel, it is customary to have street parties and parades, while in some Hasidic communities, it is common to hold a tish, a festive gathering with singing and storytelling. In Venice, Jews dress up in elaborate costumes and masks and participate in a Purim carnival.
It is an important holiday for the Jewish people as it reminds them of the victory of the Jews over their enemies and their survival from Haman’s evil plans. Purim is an important yet fun filled holiday for both children and adults. This year Purim 2023 falls on the Evening of Mon, Mar 6, 2023 – Evening of Tue, Mar 7, 2023.
- What is the purpose of the Purim holiday?
The purpose of the Purim holiday is to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people from a genocidal plot during the Persian Empire, as recorded in the biblical Book of Esther. It is a time for rejoicing, feasting, giving to charity, and promoting unity and friendship within the Jewish community.
- What food is traditionally associated with Purim?
The traditional food associated with Purim is hamantaschen, triangular cookies filled with poppy seeds, or other sweet fillings. Other festive foods may include kreplach, a type of dumpling, and challah bread shaped like Haman’s hat.
- What are the main components of the Purim holiday?
The main components of the Purim holiday include the reading of the Megillah, festive meals and feasting, giving to charity and sending gifts of food to friends and family, wearing costumes and masks, and reciting special prayers.
- What is the significance of traditional holiday costumes?
The traditional holiday costumes are significant because they represent the way that Esther disguised her Jewish identity and risked her life to save her people. Wearing costumes also promotes a sense of unity and joy within the Jewish community.
- What other Purim-related activities are there?
Other Purim-related activities may include participating in parades and street parties, attending carnivals, fasting on the day before Purim, giving money to the poor, and reciting special blessings and prayers.