The Feast of Purim is a Jewish holiday in celebration of the deliverance of the Jews as recorded in the book of Esther. It is also known as the Feast of Lots (Purim being the Hebrew word for “lots”). The feast is not mentioned in the New Testament, although scholars believe the unnamed feast of John 5:1 could be Purim.
In Esther, Haman, prime minister to the Persian King Ahasuerus, is insulted by the Jewish leader Mordecai, who refused to bow to Haman. Haman convinces the king that all Jews are rebellious and must be destroyed. To set the date of the genocide, Haman uses lots, or purim. Unbeknownst to Haman, Ahasuerus’s queen, Esther, is a Jew and Mordecai’s niece. Esther appeals to Ahasuerus for her people’s lives. The king cannot revoke the decree to attack the Jews, but he does issue a new decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves. As a result, Haman and his family are executed, and the Jews kill 75,000 would-be attackers. To memorialize the victory, Mordecai institutes the Feast of Purim to be celebrated every year (Esther 9:26-32).
Like Hanukah, the Feast of Purim has developed into more of a national holiday than a religious one, although it starts with specific prayers and a reading of the book of Esther. The celebration also involves giving gifts of food to friends, charity to the poor, and a big meal. When the book of Esther is read, the audience joins in, cheering when Mordecai’s name is mentioned, and shouting and making noise when Haman’s is. Wooden noisemakers called ra’ashan or “graggers” help with drowning out the name of Haman. Consuming alcohol is usually part of the event, and it’s said one should drink until “Cursed is Haman!” sounds the same as “Blessed is Mordecai!” There are also music, dancing, parades, and people dressing in costume.
The idea of celebrating a deliverance has extended to smaller communities and even individual families. Jewish towns and families who experience miraculous deliverance from persecution have been known to enact their own annual celebration, called a “local Purim” or “personal Purim.” Often, Jewish and Messianic Jewish communities will open their Feast of Purim to the public.