This year March 23/24 is the Jewish festival of Purim. This fun holiday is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). 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.” (sound familiar?)
Interestingly, Purim falls on Maundy Thursday this year. In both observances, we celebrate freedom from chains of oppression and slavery. With Purim, the people of God are SAVED from extermination; with Maundy Thursday through Resurrection Sunday, all who believe in Messiah is SAVED from slavery to sin and damnation and become the people of God. I am re-publishing this post on Purim for 2016. The date is different but otherwise the info is the same.
The story in a nutshell:
The Persian empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.
Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin) defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made. Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to God. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued—granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies. On the 13th of Adar the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar they rested and celebrated.
There is a special atmosphere in the synagogue during the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading. Children and sometimes adults arrive in costumes. Some costumes are traditional Mordechai and Esther disguises, and some are the more modern Spiderman and Harry Potter costumes. Anything goes on Purim. Everyone brings noise makers (rashanim) which they shake whenever “Haman”, the villain in the Purim story, is mentioned during the reading, and they boo and hiss at his name. Another custom was to write Haman’s name on one’s shoe soles and to stamp one’s feet until the oppressor’s name was erased. The custom of making a noise when Haman’s name is mentioned is very ancient and widespread. When Mordechai’s name is mentioned they cheer loudly.
Purim Food Customs
It is a mitzvah (good deed) to eat Seudat Purim (a festive meal) on Purim day. Often Purim songs are sung during this meal. There is even a commandment to drink to intoxication (imagine a command to get drunk!), until they no longer know whether they are blessing Mordechai or cursing Haman.
Another Purim custom related to food is Mishloach Manot or Shlach Manos (sending of portions – food baskets). Part of the Purim atmosphere is seeing children and adults, in costume, walking through the neighborhood giving baskets and plates filled with hamantashan and other goodies to family, friends, and neighbors. At the festive meal, and during the rest of the day, Jews eat hamantashen (Haman’s ears). Kreplach is another food often eaten at the festive meal.
Matanot LaEvyonim is Hebrew for “gifts to the poor.” On Purim, every Jew is required to give a minimum of two gifts to two people in need. The gifts should be food or money. Often synagogues join together on Purim to raise money to give to the needy.
Costumes and Carnivals
The most popular way to celebrate Purim is to dress up in costumes. The costumes mark the reversal of fate and the fact that Esther concealed her origins. Some say it also portrays the mysterious fact that God’s name is not mentioned once (He is hidden) in the Book of Esther, yet He was clearly in control of the whole situation!
Purim Plays, called Purim Shpiels, are also prevalent as a way to increase joy on the holiday. In Israel, street parades, called Adloyada, which means “until we can’t tell” (the difference between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai), have become popular on Purim. Carnivals and parties are also common ways to celebrate Purim.