Actors in costume perform during a Purim spiel performance in The Jewish Theatre of Warsaw, Poland.

Celebrating Purim

Purim is based on the story of ancient King Ahasuerus, two heroic Jewish figures—the beautiful Queen Esther and her relative Mordecai—and wicked Haman, who is the villain of the tale. Essentially, Purim encourages us to give gifts to the poor, and then prompts us to eat, drink and be merry!

Charitable ideas for Purim

In the Book of Esther, Haman accuses the Jews of being ‘a scattered, and divided nation.’ That's why it's traditional to send gifts on Purim—to show unification rather than division.

According to Jewish religious laws, each adult must give two different foods to one person and two charitable donations to two poor people. The food parcels are called Mishloach Manot, which means sending of portions. This custom is interpreted differently throughout the world, but the general idea remains the same—to share with others by distributing gifts.

You can find 101 Mishloach Manot ideas if you're interested in making your own gift basket to share.

Fun ideas for Purim

Here are some ways to add a bit of merriment to your Purim celebrations.

Dealing with wicked Haman

The public recitation of the Book of Esther (or reading of the Megillah) is the most common way to celebrate Purim. During the reading, you might sing the Shoshanat Yaakov prayer as well as several favourites. Our Jewish Songbook includes the Hebrew and English lyrics for Chag Purim, and there is even a recording of it being sung, so you can join in. The website has a few more Purim songs you can listen to online.

Degrading the wicked Haman is another activity associated with Purim. One custom is to drown out his name with noise during the reading of the Megillah. This activity requires a noisemaker (or ra’ashan from the Hebrew ra-ash, noise). Our Arts and crafts page has instructions for you to make your own Purim noisemaker.

And in Israel, some communities even go to the extent of constructing Haman mannequins to burn them in a festive Purim bonfire—if weather conditions permit.

Enjoying Purim theatrics

Watching or participating in a Purim Spiel is another way to enjoy the festival. A Purim play is usually a comic dramatisation of the Book of Esther, which integrates texts, theatre, music, dance, songs, mimes and costumes. Typically performed outside of the synagogue, the Purim Spiel has been around since the 1500s and is often associated with early Yiddish theatre.

Wearing costumes and masks is another aspect of the Purim celebration. The concept may also go back to the 1500s, which was when Italian Jews would have witnessed Venetian Carnival celebrations that took place around the same time as Purim. One more connection to costumes may be the fact that disguises play an important part in the Book of Esther.

All forms of celebrations and merrymaking are encouraged on Purim, so here are some homemade Purim costume ideas if you'd like to dress up with family members and turn it into an intergenerational celebration!

Eating and drinking

Also known as the Feast of Lots, Purim involves a great deal of eating and drinking. A festive meal (called Seudat Purim) is served, typically in the evening.

Drinking wine (and a lot of it) is also part of the Feast of Lots. The custom is attributed to a statement in the Talmud that tells you to drink until you can ‘no longer distinguish between arur Haman (Cursed is Haman) and baruch Mordechai (Blessed is Mordecai)’.

You can find an example of a typical Seudat Purim in our coverage of menu planning for special occasions. Among these recipes, there are two classic options for hamantaschen (Haman’s pockets) along with a healthy way for preparing kreplach.

Further reading

If you’d like to know more about this holiday and learn about some more of the customs associated with celebrating it, you can visit our Jewish festivals page for a little bit more information on the background of Purim, including when it is celebrated and what traditions are linked to the festival. There are several websites you can look at that offer helpful information.

Chag Sameach, and have fun during the Feast of Lots!

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