Every year starting on the Hebrew date of Adar 14 ( March 9, 2020), Jewish people all over the world celebrate the victorious festival of Purim. This religious celebration commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from the cruel Haman’s plot to rid them from the world. So raise a glass, rejoice, and feast — Chag Purim Sameach!
History of Purim
Purim’s (which roughly translates into “lots” in ancient Persian) story begins in 4th century BCE, when Jewish people lived under the law of the Persian Empire. King Ahasuerus had just had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for refusing to follow his orders and decided to arrange a beauty pageant in order to find a new wife. Esther, a Jewish girl, had caught his attention, quickly becoming the new queen, however she refused to reveal her nationality.
During all of this, Haman — who was actively against all things having to do with Judaism — was newly appointed prime minister of the empire. Leader of the Jews and cousin of the new queen, Mordechai, refused the king’s orders to bow. Fueled by his active hatred, Haman talked the king into setting forward a decree that dictated the mass genocide of all Jews during Adar 13.
While Mordechai convinced all of his fellow Jews to quickly repent, Queen Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a large feast. During the meal, Esther revealed to both her husband and the prime minister that she, herself, was Jewish, and to kill all Jews would be to plot against killing the king’s wife. Haman was instantly hanged and Esther’s cousin Mordechai was appointed the new prime minister. His first decree granted all Jews the right to defend themselves against anyone trying to harm them due to their religion.
On Adar 13, the Jews of the Persian Empire rose up and attacked a large amount of the people plotting to kill them by the masses and on the following day, Adar 14, they rested and celebrated. Though Jewish people all over the world take part in celebrating Purim, the holiday is celebrated at large in Israel with a huge festival lasting from Adar 14 to Adar 15 (March 9 and 10, 2020).
- 19th Century
Wide Spread Celebration
Middle Eastern countries learned about how the Jewish people in Italy dressed up for Purim and decided to adopt this custom as well.
- 15th century
An Italian Party
Italian Jews originate the tradition of dawning elaborate costumes and wearing masks, possibly influenced by the Roman carnival.
- 10th century
An emergence of "Special Purims" — which were days introduced by local Jewish communities recruiting a number of Purim customs — shows just how effective the holiday is for engaging larger Jewish concerns.
- Adar 14, 4th century BCE
Megillah (Book of Esther)
According to the Book of Esther, Purim was celebrated for the first time the day after the Jewish people of the Persian Empire were granted permission to rise up against their enemies.
Without wine, Purim would have never occurred. Esther’s predecessor, Vashti, was removed from her throne because of a wine feast. And the downfall of Haman was brought upon through a wine feast held by Esther. Therefore, it is prescribed for all Jewish people to drink lots of wine on Purim, not necessarily excessively, but definitely more than a person might drink ordinarily. Once a person is sufficiently wine-drunk, then it is custom for them to then take a nap. Through sleeping a person “does not know the difference between a curse and a blessing.”
Burning Haman’s effigy
Since the 5th century, it has been tradition to make and then burn an effigy of Haman on Purim. However, during this time, many Christians thought that the burning of the effigy was a reenactment of the death of Jesus and therefore a mockery of the Christian faith. Today the custom is mostly popular within Iran and within some remote communities in Kurdistan where even young Muslims will sometimes join in the festivities and celebrations.
Purim Holiday Stats
According to the 2018 Current Jewish Population Report, the world’s core Jewish population was 14,606,000, which is an increase of 98,400 (0.68%) since 2017.
The identity of the American Jew continues to evolve as people weigh ancestry against religion. While 78% of the adult Jewish population in the U.S. identifies as religious, 22% of adults consider themselves Jewish by ancestry but Atheist in terms of religion. And the number of ancestral but atheist adult Jews continues to grow as more teenagers reach adulthood.
By 2050, it is predicted that a majority of the world’s Jews will live in the Middle East and North Africa, with an emphasis on Israel, and more than 37% will live in North American. As a result, the share of the global Jewish population living in Europe is projected to decline to less than 8%.
What is Purim and how is it celebrated?
Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated by reading the Book of Esther, exchanging food and drink and partaking in a celebratory meal known as a se’udat Purim.
What happens on Purim?
Sometimes dubbed the “Jewish Mardi Gras” Purim is a festival allowing even the most orthodox of followers to let loose, wear costumes, and drink religiously mandated alcohol.
What food do you eat on Purim?
It’s tradition to have an expansive meal during Purim including meats, wine, and triangular shaped foods such as kreplach and hamantaschen pastries.
Read the Megillah aloud
The Megillah, or the Book of Esther, retells the story that started it all. Hearing, the Megillah read out loud is a Purim custom done once at night and once during the day. When Haman's name is read, it's customary to make a lot of noise to drown it out.
Give gifts to the poor
There is a traditional requirement to give at least two generous gifts to the poor during the daytime. You can also donate money to your local synagogue which they will then provide services and assistance to the community.
Eat triangle shaped foods
For Ashkenazi Jews, eating triangle shaped foods such as kreplach and hamantaschen pastries are a widely held tradition, Some people believe that the food represents Haman's three-cornered hat while others say it represents his ears. Either way, they're delicious, and eating them represents abolishing the evil associated with the anti-Jewish prime minister.
Why We Love Purim
It celebrates the survival of the Jewish people
History has not always been kind to the Jews, but holidays like Purim celebrate the strength and resilience of an entire people! Use this day to celebrate your family, your friends, and your ancestors who made life today possible.
It's surprisingly fun
Though the story of Purim is intense and suspenseful, the observance of the day is filled with fun customs and traditions such as dressing up, carnivals, and lots — and we mean lots — of drinking!
It's a day to give back
A huge part of Purim is giving back to people in need and also to the people that you love. Celebrating the importance of these practices instills goodness and charity within young children and serves as a reminder for adults to be kind and giving.