Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time about the fourth century BCE when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination as reported in the biblical Book of Esther.
Purim is based on the biblical Book of Esther.The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her identity.
Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king, hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to him. So Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews. Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people.
This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king’s presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman’s plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman and his ten sons were hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, or, in the case of a Jewish leap year, Purim Katan is celebrated in Adar I and regular Purim is celebrated in Adar II. This year Purim is celebrated from sunset March 9, 2020 through nightfall March 10, 2020. the celebration is called Purim which means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.
Many Jews, especially children, in the United States celebrate the Jewish holiday Purim as an opportunity to listen to the Megilla (or Megillah) to relive the events that are told about the story of Esther, Mordecai and Haman. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.”
Jews are also commanded to eat, drink intoxicating beverages and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.”
In addition, Jews are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. Food baskets or food gifts are also given away. A common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (literally, Haman’s pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat.
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. Some organizations hold Purim carnivals filled with activities, costumes, food and games. Special prayers are also included in evening, morning and afternoon prayers.
Purim festivals, where wealthy Jewish families would donate to charity, were reported in American newspaper articles dating as far back as 1860. It has been written in other newspapers, particularly from the early 20th century, that Purim was a day of cheerfulness and festivity among many Jewish communities in the United States.