Purim has just about arrived. The date is among the most joyous celebrations in the Jewish calendar, as it celebrates the survival of the Jewish community against an ancient Persian Empire plot to annihilate it. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, which falls on a Wednesday this year. It begins in the evening and runs until sunset Thursday.
Although Jews began marking the date in the first century, it grew into a popular holiday during the Middle Ages. Today, it is celebrated with food and treats, dancing, festivals and costumes. So what’s the holiday all about, and how is it celebrated? Here’s a handy guide to help answer that question.
What’s the Purim story? Each year, Jewish children are retold the story of Esther, the hero of Purim. Ester was a young, beautiful woman in Persia, raised by her pious cousin Mordecai. The villain of the story is Haman, an adviser to the king, Ahasuerus.
Haman has one central goal: slighted by Mordecai, who refused to bow to him, he wants to exterminate the Jews. At the same time, King Ahasuerus, who had recently sentenced his wife Queen Vashti to death, holds a pageant to pick a new queen. Mordecai suggests Esther step forward as a candidate, with the ultimate goal of saving the Jews by thwarting Haman’s conspiracy.
Esther abides and bravely confronts the king about his adviser’s evil plot. Ahasuerus, surprised to learn of the news, orders Haman and his 10 sons to be hanged. Mordecai and Esther were hailed heroes who saved the day.
How do Jews celebrate Purim? Marking the holiday, Jews read from the Book of Esther and offer retellings of the story to children. Congregants during synagogue services shake noisemakers — called groggers — at the mention of Haman’s name, in an effort to “blot out” his name from history. Parades and plays are often held on the date. Celebrants are encouraged to offer money, food or clothes to the poor; send gifts of food to friends; and eat a festive meal that includes meat and wine.
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What foods do Jews eat for Purim? The most popular food eaten on Purim is known as “hamantaschens,” or Haman pockets. A hamantaschen is essentially a triangular cookie filled with fruit marmalade. One tale is that it represents the three-cornered hat that Hitler was known to wear. Another holds that it represents the source of Esther’s strength, the founders of Judaism: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
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Beyond that, there's usually a meal that includes meat, plentiful drinks and sweets. For some Kosher recipes, Chabad offers a great list of ideas here.
Correction 8:40 a.m. EDT: A previous version of this article erroneously stated the Hebrew date of Purim as the 24th of Adar. The text has been updated to reflect that the holiday falls the 14th day of Adar.