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


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


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.

Purim: Jewish communities celebrate

Purple and green feathered mask over sheet of Jewish text

A Purim mask with Jewish text. Photo by David Hurwitz, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, MARCH 15: Synagogues resonate with the sounds of hissing, booing and stomping, today, in celebration of the Jewish festival of Purim. One of the most joyous festivals of the year, the story behind Purim evolved from an ancient plot to destroy Jews and ended with Jewish victory and a renowned queen.

Today, Jews eagerly listen to readings from the Book of Esther, “blotting out” the name of the Jewish enemy—Haman—with noisemakers and clomping.


Our Feed The Spirit department, this week, features much more about Purim by Bobbie Lewis and includes a delicious recipe for Purim’s signature cookie: Hamentaschen. (Sometimes spelled with an “e” or an “a”—”Hamen …” or “Hamantaschen.”)

Here’s a “taste” of Bobbie’s column: “This is one of the most festive days of the Jewish calendar, even though it’s not a “holy” day mentioned in the Torah, like Rosh Hashanah or Passover. If you want to know what Purim is all about, read the Book of Esther in the Bible (a post-Torah piece of writing). It’s a wonderful story, with a hero (Mordechai), a heroine (Esther), a villain (Haman) and a fool (King Ahasuerus). It has drama, tension, irony, even humor. And, in the end, the Jews of Persia are saved from the dastardly plot to annihilate them.”


Triangular pastries on a plate, each filled with a dark, jelly-like center

Hamantaschen for Purim. Photo by Isabelle Boucher, courtesy of Flickr

Purim’s signature cookies are known as Hamantaschen, or “Haman’s pockets.” (Enjoy our Feed The Spirit column today for a great cookie recipe.) Seeds and nuts serve as a reminder that Queen Esther ate these while serving as queen, since she had no access to kosher food. Additionally, adult Jews are instructed to drink wine until they can no longer “distinguish between arur Haman (‘Cursed is Haman’) and baruch Mordechai (‘Blessed is Mordecai’).


A children’s book, The Purim Superhero, is causing some controversy because it is LGBT friendly, the Boston Globe recently reported. Despite the stir, thousands of book copies are being requested by local Jewish families.

Rabbis are warning Jews to use caution when lighting firecrackers for Purim, for both safety and the Torah comand to avoid purposely endangering one’s life. Read more here.

Note: In cities that were walled at the time of the biblical Joshua, Purim is celebrated one day later—this year, at sunset on March 16. This holiday, Shushan Purim, is now only observed in Jerusalem.