Purim is one of the happiest and most joyous holidays in Jewish tradition, a holiday whose religious precepts include being happy, and even getting drunk. This is a holiday that allows even the most serious Torah scholars to get caught up in the spirit of amusement, and enjoy the carnival atmosphere.
The source of this holiday is in the Biblical Book of Esther, which relates the saving of Persian Jewry from Haman, chief minister to Persian King Ahashuerus, who was plotting to kill all the kingdom’s Jews (the time frame of this story is estimated as between the destruction of the First Temple and the building of the Second Temple, in the late 6th century BCE). The date on which Purim is observed, the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar (usually in March), in keeping with the date Haman had determined for all the Jews to be killed. Purim celebrations continue through the following day, which is called Shushan Purim.
One of the unique aspects of the Book of Esther is that the story revolves around the heroism of a woman - Esther, who was Jewish. It is she who saved the Jewish people and turned the day of the evil decree into a historic holiday.
According to Jewish law, Purim is not considered a holy day, and is therefore not an official day of rest. Business (apart from banks) are open as usual, but schools are closed and the festival atmosphere is evident in the streets throughout the country.
The Fast of Esther - The day before Purim is a fast day, commemorating the fast by Esther and all of Persian Jewry before Esther approached King Ahasuerus to plead for her people. Unlike the fasts of the Day of Atonement and the Tisha B’Av, but similar to other minor Jewish fasts, the Fast of Esther starts at dawn and ends at sunset.
The Reading of Book of Esther - On Purim evening and on the morning of the holiday, the Book of Esther is read aloud in the synagogue. There is a religious precept for women to hear this reading, too, and children are also welcome. The reading of Esther is a very happy social event: at each mention of the wicked Haman, who has become synonymous with all those who bear ill will toward Jews, the congregants and especially the children, try to drown out his name by shaking special noisemakers.
Holiday meal - After the fast there is a holiday meal with games and other amusements that lasts late into the evening. It is a religious precept to get drunk to the point of not knowing the difference between the hero of the Purim story and the evil Haman.
Gifts of fancy foods - As part of the joy of this holiday, Jews have a custom of preparing gift baskets and sending to their friends and neighbors, and to give money to the poor.
Costumes - This custom of wearing masks and costumes developed in the Middle Ages, apparently influenced by local Mardi gras holidays. Small children take special interest in this aspect of the holiday, and can be seen in the streets wearing
Haman’s ears - a traditional Purim delicacy: triangular pastries (resembling ears) filled with poppy seeds and various other sweet fillings.
On the days leading up to Purim, and especially on Purim itself, Israel is filled with a happy and lighthearted atmosphere. The streets are full of costumed children, the stores sell brightly colored accessories for the holiday and there are parties at which adults wear costumes, too.
One event with a long tradition, dating back to the early years of renewed Jewish settlement in Israel is the Purim parade through the city streets. In the past the parade was held in Tel Aviv, but today there are parades throughout the country. The biggest and most impressive parade is south of Tel Aviv, in Holon, a city that in recent years has built a reputation of being friendly to children.