Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated in the Hebrew month of Adar. Generally, Purim falls in mid-March in the Gregorian calendar. This year, it falls on March 11 and 12. Jewish holidays generally begin at sundown on the night before the holiday. Purim is one of the most enjoyable and fun holidays in the Jewish calendar. Although Christians do not traditionally observe Purim, there are many lessons that can be learned from the story and traditions.
The Story of Esther
In the book of Esther in the Bible, we can read the story behind Purim. Esther is a beautiful young Jewish woman who lives in Persia with her cousin. The King of Persia takes Esther into his harem, and he later makes her queen because he loves her so much. Mordecai, Esther's cousin, told her not to reveal her religious identity to the King when she was taken into his harem.
Haman, who hates the Jews, is an advisor to the King. Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman, although Mordecai does respect the King's authority. Haman turns around and plots to destroy the Jewish people. He lies to the King about the Jewish people and is given permission to do as he pleases with the Jews. Haman extends an order to exterminate the Jews.
Esther learns of the plot through Mordecai. He encourages her to approach the King, which was quite dangerous at the time. No one, not even the queen, could come into the King's presence without being summoned. If the King did not welcome Esther, he might put her to death. She prays and fasts for three days before approaching his throne, and he does welcome her. She does not immediately tell him of the plot, but asks him to come to dinner. Eventually, she shares that she is at risk because of Haman's plot. The King orders Haman and his sons to be hanged and gives Mordecai permission to write an edict to save the Jewish people. They were saved, and this is why Purim is celebrated.
The book of Esther is unusual, as it is the only book in the Bible that does not contain the name of God. It hardly even references the Lord, and only through a very vague comment about how if Esther remains silent, the Jews will find relief from another source. The story is much richer than can be told here. Read it for yourself to really understand all the aspects of Esther's story.
Traditions of Purim
A couple of days before Purim, a fast is held to remember Esther's preparation to go before the King. On Purim, the story of Esther is read aloud at the synagogue and in the home. When the name of Haman is mentioned, people boo and hiss to blot out his name. It is also traditional to hold carnival-like celebrations and to eat and drink. Jews also send out gifts of food and drink to friends, family and charities. One common treat made at Purim is hamentaschen, or little triangular filled cookies called Haman's pockets. The triangle shape is said to represent Haman's three-cornered hat.
The story of Purim is an important tale of God's redemption. Esther was chosen as queen from hundreds of candidates. Mordecai learns of a plot against the King and saves the King from an assassination. Later, at just the right time, the King is reminded of Mordecai's deed and rewards him. When you read through the book of Esther, you see these "coincidences." God was always in control of the fate of the Jews through positioning people in places where they can make a difference. We may not always know how God is working in our life, but like Esther, we can take action when we see an injustice.