Purim: Jews masquerade, parade and feast in honor of Esther

A group of girls in matching purple skirts and costumes walks down an open road

Girls participate in a Purim procession in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, MARCH 11: Happy Purim!

Purim may be a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish year, but there’s no question: It’s fun!

Jews end the Fast of Esther tonight and feast, masquerade and drink for the joyous festival, recalling Queen Esther and the victory she managed to pull off for the Jewish people in the face of the Persian Empire’s crushing power. Because they were saved from destruction and won over their foes, Jews celebrate gaily and throw parties for adults and children alike. The masks and costumes associated with Mardi Gras are echoed in Purim’s customs as celebrants dress up to symbolize God’s “hidden presence” in the events of the Book of Esther.

Triangle-shaped pastries, filled with jam, on white plate with red cloth beneath

Haman’s pockets, a traditional treat made for Purim. Photo by ulterior epicure, courtesy of Flickr

‘BLOTTING OUT’ HAMAN: STOMPS, NOISEMAKERS & POCKET TREATS

Purim day begins with a reading of the Book of Esther, which is often done publicly in the synagogue. As the evil Haman’s name is read—which occurs 54 times—Jews stomp their feet and rattle noisemakers, to “blot out” his name. Some Jews even write Haman’s name on the bottom of their shoes, so as to literally stomp on his name!

Purim is associated with good food and drink. One particular treat exchanged on Purim is Hamantaschen, “Haman’s pockets,” which consists of sweet pastry filled with prunes or poppy seeds. In the jovial nature of Purim, adults are encouraged to drink until they can’t tell the difference between “cursed by Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.”

Traditional Purim costumes reflect the various roles in the story of Esther. However, as Jewish organizations continue to make merry on this ancient holiday, new ideas arise—including cultural themes that tie Purim with the 21st century: themes like Harry Potter, “Star Wars” and Marvel superheroes have gained popularity in recent years.

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