Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar. The story of Purim tells how Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, both Jews, foiled the plot of the wicked Haman, the king’s advisor, who sought to destroy all the Jews. This victory over our threatened annihilation is celebrated in raucous style. There are several key traditions of Purim:
The Fast of Esther To commemorate the day of fasting which the Jews in Shushan held when they learned of Haman’s plot to murder them, we fast on the day before Purim. It has been suggested that we try to use this day to reach out to our enemies and enter into dialogue.
Listen to the Megillah The primary way we observe Purim is to celebrate the heroism of Esther and Mordechai by listening to the reading of the story of Purim from Megillat Esther on Purim evening. Using noisemakers, we drown out the name of the villain, Haman, every time his name is mentioned.
Eat the Festive Meal As on all festivals, we celebrate Purim with a festive meal during the day. On Purim, we feast just like the Jews of Shushan feasted to celebrate that Haman’s evil plot was averted.
Give Gifts to the Needy Matanot la-evyonim, gifts to the needy on Purim, is a practice mentioned in Megillat Esther as one of the ways the Jews of Shushan celebrated their victory. Giving to at least two poor people or two charitable funds fulfills this observance. It is traditional to give gifts of food or of money to purchase food, so that the recipient can use it for a Purim feast, if they celebrate Purim.
Send Gifts of Food Mishlo'ah manot, sending gifts of food to loved ones, is another custom that stems from the Megillah. Exchanging platters of baked goods is one of the loveliest customs of Purim, as anyone who has ever received such a gift can attest. It creates a special bond of friendship and Jewish unity. It is traditional to give at least two different kinds of food over which you would make two different blessings – for example, hamantashen (Purim cookies) and fruit. The idea is that the food given can be eaten on Purim as part of the Purim feast.