Beginning March 9th this year at sundown and continuing until the end of the following day, Purim falls on a different day every year. A holy day on the Jewish calendar, Purim celebrates Queen Esther’s brave role in saving her people from genocide at the hands of the Babylonians.
The story of Purim dates back to the 6th century, B.C. during the 70-year period that the Jews were held in captivity by the Babylonians. The Babylonian king Ahasuerus publicly divorces his wife when she refuses to parade herself to the guests at his party. In a very ancient form of choosing a wife pretty similar to The Bachelor or even Flavor of Love, the king demands that all the young women of his land be presented to him to choose a new wife. One of these girls is a young woman named Haddassah who changes her name to Esther so as to not make her Jewish heritage obvious. Attracted to her beauty and spirit, King Ahasuerus marries her. Sweetening the deal is that Esther’s cousin who raised her, Mordechai, foiled an assassination plot on the king however Haman, the King’s vizier passes the deed off as his own.
Mordechai, however, is not too popular with King Ahasuerus’s vizier, Haman, refusing to bow to him. Haman plans to kill him AND all of those of Jewish ancestry in the empire as a rebuttal. Oddly enough, Ahasuerus agrees and wants “lots” (the Hebrew word “Purim” translates to “lots”) to draw which day of the month they will carry out this evil plot. Meanwhile, Ahasuerus is oblivious to the fact that his wife Esther is Jewish.
When Esther hears of this plot, she spreads the word for all Jewish people in the empire to pray and fast for three days in the hope of a miracle. Part of this miracle, Ahasuerus gets a fit of insomnia and reads over records of the court and realizes that he has not yet repaid Mordechai as the man who saved his life by exposing the plot to have him killed. After fasting, Esther brings Haman to this banquet, where he believes the King will reward him. Instead, King Ahasuerus rewards Mordechai for his service. Esther also reveals that she is Jewish.
The King then orders Haman to be executed in the same way he wanted Mordechai to die. The catch is, however, that the decree issued for the Jews to be exterminated cannot be taken back. However, the King allows Esther and her people to ammend this decree however they see fit. Esther decrees that the Jews be allowed to defend themselves against Haman’s army. Miraculously, they win and the army is defeated. Esther continues to reign as Queen alongside Ahasuerus and Mordechai is given a prominent place in the King’s court. Additionally, Esther is recognized throughout history as one of the only females to have a book devoted to her in the Torah/Bible’s Old Testament. (Additionally, “Esther” is the Jewish name that Madonna took when she converted to the Kabbalistic faith.)
Celebrate Purim with traditional Hamantashen cookies (cookies shaped like Haman’s hat) and by observing the four main tenants of Purim: 1. Hearing the book of Esther read in the synagogue at both evening on the first night and morning on the next. 2. Giving gifts of food to friends 3. Charitable acts 4. Having a celebratory meal.
During the reading of the book of Esther in the synagogue, things get a bit rowdy with noisemakers rattled everytime the name “Haman” is mentioned in the text to show contempt. An old school way of doing this was for synagogue visitors to write “Haman” on the soles of their shoes and stomp with them.
Get wild this Purim and celebrate with a noisemaker and some Purim costumes. If you’re doing a re-enactment, you will certainly need a Queen Esther costume as the main character in your play. Other costumes like King’s crowns can also be used, as well as distinctive hats for Haman.