Unmasking the Meaning of Purim

The Jewish holiday of Purim celebrates a time in the 4th century BCE when Jewish people in Shushan, Persia, were saved from a cruel fate by the bravery of a woman named Esther. Purim takes place annually on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, which this year begins at sundown on February 25 and ends at nightfall on February 26. In the Purim story, Queen Esther disclosed the evil plot of Haman, the King’s advisor, to her husband the King. Her courage ensured this plot was foiled and Jewish communities around the world continue to celebrate this victory.

How is Purim Celebrated?

It is customary to celebrate Purim in four ways:

  1. Listen to the Purim story, The Book of Esther (Megillat Esther)
  2. Eat a festive meal
  3. Give gifts of food to friends (mishloach manot)
  4. Give support to those in need (matanot l’evyonim) and to charity (tzedakah)

Make Room for Joy

The Book of Esther is a serious and complex story. Younger children can enjoy reading or listening to short books about Purim. There is even a Purim episode of the PJ Library podcast Have I Got A Story for You. Kids can cheer along when they hear Mordechai’s name (Queen Esther’s uncle) and boo at Haman’s name.

Here are a few fun ways your family can rejoice this Purim:

  • Dress up in costumes: This is one of the most popular Purim traditions! Children may enjoy crafting costumes, crowns, or jewelry out of materials found at home. Making puppets or props to accompany costumes is also fun. Families can dress up in a theme, such as characters from a PJ Library book.
  • Plan a festive Purim meal: The Book of Esther instructs us to eat, drink, and party to our heart’s content.
  • Bake hamantaschen: Even very young children can assist in making these tasty treats to share with family and friends, which makes this a favored holiday tradition for Jewish communities around the world. You can experiment with different fillings for these triangular treats which symbolize Haman’s hat (or ears). Working with different textures and colors is a wonderful way to engage in sensory play. If you are seeking inventive flavors and fillings, look no further than these ten recipes.
  • Create Purim gift baskets: Children can make cards and illustrations to accompany mishloach manot that are given to family and friends.
  • Craft: Create your own noisemakers, called groggers, with recycled cups or empty juice boxes.
Hamantaschen fresh from the oven

Learn What it Means to Be Brave

Bravery is central to the Purim story, as Queen Esther exhibited immense courage by standing up for what she believed in. While she initially concealed her Jewish identity, when she discovered that the survival of her community, the Jewish people, was at stake, she chose to speak up and reveal her identity to her husband, King Ahashuerus. Queen Esther drew on the strength of her heart (ometz lev) in this heroic act. At times throughout history in different places around the world, it has been hard to be openly Jewish. The story of Purim reminds Jewish people to always be proud of their identity. While Purim is a fun holiday, the important moral remains – when a moment of truth arrives, we may have to summon our strength of heart and act in the right way, the humane way.

Ideas for how to explore the deeper themes of Purim:

  • Adults and children can talk about how it can be difficult to be brave and the different ways we can show courage (video below). We can consider times when we have felt scared, lonely, or worried, or when we believed we needed to keep a secret. Children can share personal examples of when they had to choose whether to be brave and the outcomes of their decisions.
  • Making Purim masks is fun and a playful way to explore the theme of uncovering one’s true identity.
  • In the Purim story, the King chooses Esther as his queen because of her outward beauty. However, Esther instinctively understood that her true worth was measured by who she was inside. Older children can discuss this idea as expressed in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Ancestors: “Do not look at the jug, but rather what is inside it.”
  • Children can explore how everyone has superpowers waiting to be uncovered. They can express appreciation for heroes in their lives, such as front-line workers, community helpers, and members of their families. They can write letters, send drawings, or say thank you at any time!

Make a Difference

Celebrating Jewish holidays is one of many ways that communities can come together. Participating in acts of justice (tzedakah) and performing good deeds (mitzvot) are an essential part of Purim. As such, it is traditional for families to give “gifts for the poor,” known as matanot levyonim.

Opportunities for families to make a difference on Purim and throughout the year:

  • Children can collect and donate food, books, or gently used toys for local organizations or shelters. These alternatives to monetary donations empower young children to actively participate in giving.
  • Families can make and decorate their own tzedakah box with materials found at home, such as an empty tissue box or coffee container. Once completed, children can start a new tzedakah ritual.
  • February is a time dedicated to learning and celebrating both Black History Month and Jewish Disability Advocacy Month. Let’s recognize the beauty and power in our differences and teach our children to love, respect, and embrace everyone.

This Purim, like each year before, families can combine traditional ways of celebrating with their own rituals and practices. May your family find ways to remember the heroes of the past and celebrate the triumphs of heroes in our communities today. Chag sameach, and wishing you a Purim of joy and generosity!


February 02, 2021