Purim, the original story of which can be found in the book of Esther, is a one-day celebration instituted by Mordecai to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from Haman’s plot to kill them. The word purim, meaning “lots,” was named for the lots cast by Haman in order to determine the time in which the slaughter was to take place. This feast is observed on the 14th of Adar (one month before Passover). Because Purim is one of the minor festivals, work is permitted on that day; however, Jewish people are encouraged to take off from their regular jobs in order to celebrate the holiday in an appropriate manner. The feast is celebrated joyously in communities as another reminder of God’s protection and deliverance of His people.
The people celebrate Purim by reading the entire book of Esther, the Megillah (scroll). Men and women alike are required to listen to the reading of the Megillah. It is customary to fold the Megillah over and to spread it out before the reading since it is called a “letter” (Esther 9:26, 29). The four verses of “redemption” (2:5; 8:15-16; and 10:3) are read in a louder voice than the other verses. Children are encouraged to make noises with rattles and other devices when the name Haman is read to blot out the memory of Haman and of Amalek (Deut. 25:19, Esther 3:1 and 1 Sam. 15:8-9) because Haman was a descendant of Amalek. They may cheer when the name Mordechai is read. It is customary to eat small three-cornered pies called “hamantashen” (“Haman’s pockets”) on Purim. Another custom is for the reader to recite the names of the ten sons of Haman (Esther 9:7-9) in one breath to show that they were executed simultaneously. It is also customary to have parades and carnivals in which the children wear costumes.
Based on the Talmud, Purim has been the day when the usual restraints against excessive drinking of intoxicating beverages are relaxed. According to the sages, “A person is required to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’”
The book of Esther speaks of “sending portions” (9:22) to friends on Purim and of giving gifts to the poor. Consequently, the Jewish people send at least two “portions” of eatables, confectionery, and so forth to a friend and give a present of money to at least two poor men. Children often serve as messengers in delivering the portions. There is a special festive meal on Purim, called a “seudah,” which is thought of as a fulfillment of the directive that these be days of feasting.
Although the name of God does not appear anywhere in the book of Esther, we see His sovereign presence throughout. The celebration of Purim is a joyous remembrance of God’s deliverance of His people through an attempted annihilation. This fact is especially significant in light of the fact that these events took place before the incarnation of Messiah Jesus. Therefore, Purim stands as another reminder that God keeps His promises; He preserved and protected the vehicle through which Messiah would come (the Jewish people) just as He said He would and showed that attempts to eliminate His Chosen People are futile.