Purim is a joyful Jewish holiday commemorating the salvation of the Jewish people from a near massacre in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther. Unlike the solemn fasting during Yom Kippur, Purim is a time of merriment, marked by feasting, drinking wine, dressing up in costumes, and giving gifts to friends, family and people in need.

Purim celebrates Queen Esther each year on the 14th day of the Adar in the Hebrew calendar, typically in March, and is held from sundown to sundown the following day.

History and Origins

Purim, which translates to “lots” in Hebrew and is sometimes called the Feast of Lots, is founded on the events told in the biblical Book of Esther, which dates back to the fifth century B.C. The narrative centers on Esther, an orphaned Jewish young woman raised by her cousin Mordechai, who ascends to the throne of Persia when she marries King Achashverosh. 

Following Mordechai’s counsel, Esther conceals her Jewish identity from the king. However, when Haman, the king’s advisor, conspires to destroy all of Persia’s Jews, partly due to his hatred of Mordechai, Mordechai urges Esther to reveal her identity. Bravely, she chooses her people’s survival over her own safety, confronting Haman’s scheme and imploring the Jews to fast with her for three days before she approaches the king.

Queen Esther
Art Images via Getty Images
A painting of Queen Esther from the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia.

Esther’s plea, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16), becomes a defining moment of courage. The king ultimately sides with his wife, orders Haman’s execution, and saves the Jewish people. 

"It's the story of human ingenuity, human courage, and human bravery," Rabbi Elaine Glickman of the Women’s Rabbinic Network tells USA Today

Notably, the Book of Esther is the only book in The Bible that does not directly mention God by name. 

“There was not splitting of the sea or water turning into blood,” Rabbi Yehuda Lipskier, executive director of Chabad, tells NY1. “This was a natural event with political maneuvering.”

Customs and Traditions

The Fast of Esther, known as Taʿanit Esther, precedes Purim, echoing Ester’s own fast. During Purim, there are four key traditions, called mitzvot (religious commandments), to observe. One, the public reading of the Book of Esther, or the Megillah, usually in a synagogue, is central to the holiday’s celebrations. The reading is traditionally performed twice, on both days of the festivities, and it is a boisterous affair, with loud cheers and jeers shouted whenever Haman’s name is mentioned. 

Other mitzvot include donating at least two gifts of charity, such as food, money or clothing, to those in need, sharing food with friends and enjoying a celebratory meal that features wine and meat. 

Dressing in costumes, especially for children, is also part of the Purim custom, as are parades, plays and carnivals. 

“The notion that everything is upside-down is very much a part of the tradition. Masquerading is something that’s been associated with Purim for hundreds of years,” Judaic studies professor Jonathan Krasner tells Time.

Food Traditions

Purim traditions often include the exchange of baskets, known as mishloach manot, filled with festive foods and wine or grape juice. One of the most popular treats is hamentaschen, an iconic triangular-shaped pastry filled with poppyseeds, chocolate, dates or jam, that symbolizes the three-sided hat said to be worn by Haman. 

Other customary dishes include kreplach, savory meat-filled dumplings served in soup, challah, blintzes and more. Celebrants often serve them at the Purim seudah, a feast with friends and family that typically begins in the afternoon, with festivities often lasting well into the night. 


“Purim Fast Facts,” CNN
“The Meaning Behind 5 of the Most Popular Purim Traditions,” Time
“What is Purim? Everything to know about the Jewish holiday, from costumes to hamantaschen,” USA Today
“What is Purim, and how is the holiday celebrated in the city?” NY1.com
“Purim,” chabad.org