Purim is the most festive Jewish holiday of the year. Purim, literally means “lots” and commemorates the day the Jews were saved from the evil plots of Haman to kill all the Jews in Persia on the day he chose by throwing lots. The story was recorded in what we call the Megillah, aka, the Book of Esther.
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Dressing up in costume, eating triangular shaped cookies called hamantaschen, and delivering gift baskets to our friends are all significant parts of the Purim holiday. And although there is no religious significance, a lot of us tend to go all out and match everything—our entire family’s costumes, our gift baskets, and our menu—to a theme.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar on the Jewish calendar which falls between February and March.
Purim is a one-day holiday celebrated with the reading of the megillah in synagogue where everyone comes dressed in costume and makes noise when the name Haman is read. The symbolic food of the holiday is the Hamantashen. Hamantaschen are the filled triangle shaped cookies that are the official cookie of the Purim holiday. These cookies are named after the main villain in the Purim story, Haman. Hamantaschen literally means Haman’s pockets and various symbolic meanings are ascribed to their triangular shape. The pockets allude to the bribes Haman took or perhaps his triangular ears or his three-cornered hat. The filling, concealed inside the dough is supposed to symbolize the hidden presence of God throughout the Purim story, but never mentioned in the Megillah.
Everyone gives money to the needy and sends gifts of foods, called Mishloach Manot, to their friends. Depending on what neighborhood you inhabit, these gifts also can be called “shalach munis” or simply Purim treats. It’s more than mere “tradition” to give goodies to friends and family. The practice of giving food – specifically two different types -- was mandated as a mitzvah at the suggestion of Queen Esther (you’ll find it in the Megillah), and we’re still obeying to this day.
The holiday culminates in a festive meal with family and friends and lots of wine and drink where the mitzvah is actually to eat and drink in abundance to bring the joy of the holiday to all-time highs.