Smile, Its Purim!
Purim is the happiest of all Jewish holidays, when having fun is not only permitted, it is commanded. In fact, we are commanded to become so filled with silliness that we cant tell the difference between Blessed is Mordecai and Cursed is Haman.
But Purim also carries a very serious message. Found in the Biblical book of Esther, Purim is the story of how a small and oppressed Jewish population found the courage and strength to overcome an evil enemy. The name Purim means lots, which, like rolling dice, were used to determine when the Jews would be destroyed. The Jews fate was reversed, however, when the heroic Queen Esther led the quest for survival. Miraculously, the Jews turned a day of near-destruction into a day of joyous redemption.
Purim occurs on the 14th of Adar on the Hebrew calendar. In some cities, Purim occurs on the 15th of Adar. This holiday, called Shushan Purim, is celebrated in cities that were surrounded by walls in Biblical times. An example of a walled city is Israels capital, Jerusalem.
Purim lends itself to a wide variety of celebrations. It is traditional to read the Purim story from the book of Esther, called The Megillah in Hebrew. The Megillah can be read in synagogue or at home, in the evening or on the morning of Purim. During the reading, everyone drowns out the name of the villain Haman by using a grogger, the Yiddish word for noisemaker. Many people dress in masks and costumes on Purim, much as people wear disguises on Halloween. Food and drink add to the festivities. Some communities also hold Purim carnivals with games, food, contests, and crafts. At home, families and friends celebrate with a festive meal.
But Purim would hardly be complete without its own brand of entertainment, called a spiel (pronounced shpeel). A tradition for hundreds of years, Purim spiels typically include humorous plays, skits, and music. Sometimes the spiel is a comic interpretation of the traditional Purim story using modern characters and settings. Often, members of a particular community use the spiel as an opportunity to poke fun at the people and places around them. The audience may wonder whether the Purim spiel is all in fun or instead, the honest truth. Are the actors merely poking fun, or are they saying what they really mean? Do our masks and costumes conceal who we are, or reveal our true selves? No one really knows. Its all part of the fun and meaning of Purim.