Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras.
Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (February/March). In leap years, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one month before Passover. It commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day,” as recorded in the Megillah (book of Esther). The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll.
Purim means “lots” in ancient Persian. The holiday was thus named since Haman had thrown lots to determine when he would carry out his diabolical scheme. There is a spirit of liveliness and fun on Purim that is unparalleled on the Jewish calendar. If there were ever a day to “let loose” and just be Jewish, this is it! It is customary for children and adults to dress up in costumes.
Jews are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as Mishloach Manot (sending out portions). A traditional Purim food is hamantaschen (or oznay Haman), three-cornered pastries bursting with poppy seeds or another sweet filling. On the day before Purim (or on the Thursday before, when Purim is on Sunday), it is customary to fast, commemorating Esther’s fasting and praying to G‑d that He save His people.
Purim is not subject to the sabbath-like restrictions on work that some other holidays are; however, some sources indicate that we should not go about our ordinary business on Purim out of respect for the holiday.
From the Jewish Learning Website:
9 Things You Didn’t Know About Purim
- Esther was a vegetarian (or at least a flexitarian).
- You’re supposed to find a go-between to deliver your mishloach manot, the gift baskets traditionally exchanged with friends and family on Purim.
- The Book of Esther is the only biblical book that does not include G-d’s name.
- Hamantaschen might have been designed to symbolize Haman’s hat — or his ears or pockets. Or something a little more womanly.
- In 1945, a group of American GI’s held belated Purim services inside Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ confiscated castle.
- The Book of Esther, which many scholars theorize is fictional, may be an adaptation of a Babylonian story.
- The Jewish calendar has a regular leap year with two months of Adar (but only one Purim, which falls during the second Adar).