What is the Jewish holiday of Purim about?

Jews around the world will take to the streets Monday night with music and elaborate costumes in celebration of Purim, the joyful holiday that commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people from Haman, the wicked leader who wished to eradicate them.

When is Purim?

Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, which usually coincides with the month of March. Purim 2020 begins Monday night, March 9, and continues Tuesday, March 10.

Why do Jews celebrate Purim?

The story of Purim dates back to the Persian Empire of the 4th century BCE. At the center of the story is King Ahasuerus, who met Esther, a Jewish girl at a mandatory beauty pageant he arranged with the hopes of finding a new queen after he had his first wife killed for failing to obey his commands. Esther kept her Jewish identity hidden from the king and his prime minister, Haman, who issued a decree calling for the extermination of the Jewish people after Mordechai, the leader of the Jews, refused to bow to him.

In this March 11, 2017 picture, children sing during Purim celebrations at the Coral Temple synagogue in Bucharest, Romania. Children put on fancy costume dress joining dozens of believers from Romania's Jewish community who attended a Purim service to celebrate the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

In this March 11, 2017 picture, children sing during Purim celebrations at the Coral Temple synagogue in Bucharest, Romania. Children put on fancy costume dress joining dozens of believers from Romania's Jewish community who attended a Purim service to celebrate the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) (The Associated Press)

Haman selected a date to carry out his plan through a lottery, as Jews repented, fasted and prayed. In a miraculous turn of events, Esther eventually revealed her Jewish identity, telling the king that his closest adviser was hoping to eradicate her people.

Haman was then hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister, and a new decree was issued, granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

On the 13th of Adar, the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar, they rested and celebrated.

How do Jews celebrate Purim?

There is a spirit of liveliness and joy on Purim that is unparalleled on the Jewish calendar.

It is customary for Jews to read the Book of Esther, which recounts the story of the Purim miracle in vivid detail, both in the evening and the following morning.

Aside from a festive feast that often includes wine and other celebratory beverages, most Jewish communities exchange gifts of two different kinds of food with family and friends.

There is also a particular obligation to give charity to at least two people in need on Purim.

Most adults and children will spend the day dressed up in costumes, an allusion to the nature of the Purim miracle, where the details of the story are really miracles hidden within natural events.