The Jewish festival of Purim is celebrated annually in the middle of the Hebrew month of Adar which falls in late winter or early spring.
The story of Purim takes place in the ancient Persian empire 14th century BCE. The king, Ahasuerus, held a 6 month feast for his army and civil servants at which he orders his wife Vashti to parade her beauty before the kings guests. The queen refuses and so the king removes her as his queen.
In order to find a new queen, the king decides to hold a pageant of all the maidens in the land. Amongst them, was a beautiful Jewish orphan girl named Ester who was chosen to be the new queen. She promises her uncle Mordechai, leader of the Jewish people, that she would not reveal her Jewish identity as it may cause unwanted attention to their community.
A short time later, Mordechai discovers that there is a plot to murder the king. The criminals are apprehended and hanged and Mordechai’s service to the king is recorded.
The king appoints a man called Haman as his prime minister. Haman was an anti-Semite and evil man who became furious with Mordechai, who lived near the palace gates, when he refused to bow down to him as he passed by on his horse. Haman discovers that he is Jewish and plans to kill not just Mordechai but all the Jews in the empire. Mordechai finds out about Haman’s plan and gathers his people to repent, fast and pray.
Ester, who had learnt of Haman’s plan to execute all the Jews, invites the King and Haman to a feast, where she reveals to them her Jewish identity. She tells the king of Hamans intentions to kill all the Jews. The king, remembering how Mordechai had saved him from assasination is angered by Haman’s intentions and sends Haman to the gallows instead to be hanged. He appoints Mordecahi the new prime minister, and grants the Jews to write another decree allowing the Jews the right to defend themselves from their enemies.
Festival of Purim Customs
It is customary on this holiday for Jews to attend synagogue to hear a reading of the ‘Book of Ester‘ which recounts the miracle. At every mention of the name Haman, it is customary to make noise, boo, shake a rattle to show displeasure with Haman the villain. It is also traditional to dress up as the characters such as Ester, Mordachai, Haman, or Ahasuerus.
These days the celebration, particularly for the secular Jews, centers around fancy dress, where anything goes. Most schools in Israel hold fancy dress competitions and there is a carnival atmosphere to the day.
Food, of course, plays an important role. It is customary to send modest food baskets as gifts to people you know (called Mishloach Manot). Traditional food for this festival is a sweet filled pastry called Haman’s Ears (Hamantashen in the shape of a 3 pointed hat). Like most other festivals Jews are supposed to enjoy a festive meal and it is the only time in the Jewish calendar that you are obligated by religion to get drunk.
Here is one of my favorite Hamantaschen recipes:
- 142grms margarine
- 142grms sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 cup/114grms self-raising flour
- 1 cup/114grms plain flour
- melted honey to glaze
- 1/3 cup ground poppy seeds
- grated lemon rind
- 1/4 pint (1/2 cup+2T) water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 30grms margarine
- 1/4 cup raisins
- drop of wine
Traditional Jewish pastries for Purim called Hamantashen
Cream together the margarine and sugar until soft. Add the yolk of the egg and the flour slowly to make a very stiff dough, using some egg white if dry. Knead lightly. Roll out thinly, and cut into 3 inch circles.
Simmer the poppy seeds in water with other ingredients until thick. Allow to cool before using as filling. Place the filling in the centre of each circle. Brush the edges with water, and bring the edges to the centre to form triangles. Bake in oven at 425 degrees F, Mark 7, for 20 minutes.
Brush with melted honey and sprinkle with decorations.
Makes about 24
Personally for me, the festival of Purim centers around my children, the making of their fancy dress costumes, and the basket gifts that they have to take to school to swap between their friends. Planning starts months before as traditionally my husband or my mother-in-law take it upon themselves to hand make the girls costumes.
These pictures show my two younger kids year after year.
Ella – Chinese girl,
Noa – Toffee
Ella – Sun,
Noa – Clown
Ella – Statue of Liberty,
Noa – Fairy
Ella – Popeye,
Noa – Statue of Liberty