To commemorate the miraculous turn of events recorded in Esther, Purim is celebrated with feasts, sending gifts of food to friends and the needy, and with the reading of Esther, the story of Purim.
The earliest descriptions of Purim celebrations, from the Second Temple and Mishnaic eras, offer no indication of the partying that is associated with the festival today. The emphasis was on the formal reading of the Scroll of Esther, which was to be conducted with great care and seriousness. Later customs originated in late fifteenth century Italy, such as donning masks, drinking, parody, and costumes. Purim is a joyous day celebrated by the entire family.
To celebrate Purim get together with friends and family for a Purim party. Let the children dress up as the characters found in the Scroll of Esther (King Ahasuerus, Vashti, Queen Esther, Mordecai, and the evil Haman.) Use noisemakers (groggers) and serve Hamantashens (delicious fruit filled cookies).
Main traditions of Purim
- Listening to the Megillah reading in the evening and again in the morning.
- Sending at least two ready to eat foods to at least one friend.
- Giving charity to at least two poor people.
- Eating a festive meal during the day of Purim in honor of the holiday.
- Reciting “Al Hanisim” in prayer and in grace after meal.
To commemorate the day of prayer and fasting that the Jews held before their victory, Jews fast on the day before Purim from approximately three hours before sunrise until forty minutes after sunset.
Give to Charity
It is a tradition to give to charity to commemorate the half-shekel given by each Jew in the time of the Holy Temple.
Special prayers are said for evening, morning and afternoon, as well as in the grace after meals. The morning of Purim, there is a special reading from the Torah Scroll in the synagogue.
Play One of the most entertaining customs of the Purim holiday is the children dressing up as the characters found in the story of Esther. The Megillah (the Scroll of Esther) is read aloud as it is acted out in a play or acted out with puppets. The custom of donning masks and costumes on Purim probably originated in late fifteenth century Italy as an imitation of Christian carnivals. It was tied to the idea of God’s “hiding his face” as found in the Talmud!
Groggers are the noisemakers used during the reading of the Megillah. Every time the name of Haman is mentioned, everyone boos, hisses, stamps their feet, and twirls their groggers. Any type of noisemaker can be used. In medieval Europe, children would write Haman’s name on stones or wood blocks, and bang them until the name was erased. When the name Mordecai is mentioned, the people cheer.
Family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit by having a special festive meal. As with other holidays, there is a traditional food. During Purim, Hamantaschens are served. Hamantaschen means “Haman’s pockets.” These are triangle-shaped cookies that supposedly look like the hat Haman wore. The cookies are sweet, filled with a fruit (usually prune) or poppy seed mixture.
Work is permitted as usual on Purim unless, of course, it falls on the Sabbath.
The above is an excerpt from A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays.