Thursday, March 8, 2012
Note: Jewish holidays begin at sundown the day before the date specified for the holiday.
List of dates for other years
Purim marks the Jewish people’s deliverance from a royal death decree around the fourth century BCE, as told in the Book of Esther. Esther was a queen who helped stop plans to kill Jewish people.
Many Jewish people in Canada celebrate Purim on the 14th day of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, which is in February or March in the Gregorian calendar. According to many sources, the celebrations begin at around sunset on the 13th day of Adar, while other sources mention that Purim is observed on the 15th day of Adar.
Purim is a festive Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from their enemies in the biblical Book of Esther. Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar, which usually falls sometime in February or March. Purim is such a popular holiday that the ancient rabbis declared that it alone would continue to be celebrated after the Messiah comes (Midrash Mishlei 9). All other holidays will not be celebrated in the messianic days.
Purim is so-called because the villain of the story, Haman, cast the “pur” (the lot) against the Jews yet failed to destroy them. Reading Purim Story is a central part of the Purim celebration. You can watch the movie here
What do people do?
Purim is a Jewish festival that celebrates survival in a foreign land or in exile. Many Jewish Canadians, especially children, listen to the Megilla (or Megillah). When the story of Esther is read out loud, graggers (or groggers), which are Purim noisemakers, are used to drown out the name of the villain in the story. This man, named Haman, planned to kill the Jewish people in ancient Persia. Queen Esther worked together with her cousin Mordecai to stop Haman’s plans.
The most important Purim custom is reading the Purim Story from the Scroll of Esther, also called the Megillah. Jews usually attend synagogue for this special reading. Whenever Haman (the villain’s) name is mentioned people will boo, howl, hoot and shake noisemakers (groggers) to express their dislike of him. Hearing the Megillah reading is a commandment that applies to both women and men.
Purim is a happy holiday in the Jewish calendar and is associated with costumes, hilarity, food, and fun. Many Jewish Canadians remember the dangers that their ancestors faced in exile and they celebrate the miracle of their existence every Purim. Purim gift baskets are exchanged on this occasion. These baskets are often filled with hamantashen, different types of candy, or cookies. Hamantaschen is a Purim cookie named for the three-cornered hat that Haman wore – popular/favorite. Many Jewish people also donate to charity around this time of the year.
Purim Costumes and Carnivals
Unlike more serious synagogue occasions, both children and adults often attend the Megillah reading in costume. Traditionally people would dress up as characters from the Purim story, for example, as Esther or Mordechai. However, nowadays people enjoy dressing up as all manner of different characters: Harry Potter, Batman, wizards, you name it! The tradition of dressing up is based upon the way Esther concealed her Jewish identity at the beginning of the Purim Story. At the conclusion of the Megillah reading, many synagogues will put on plays (shpiels) that reenact the Purim Story and poke fun at the villain. Most synagogues also host Purim Carnivals.
Purim Food Customs
As with most Jewish holidays, food plays an important role in Purim. For instance, people are commanded to send mishloach manot to other Jews. Mishloach Manot are baskets filled with food and drink. According to Jewish law each mishloach manot must contain at least two different kinds of food that is ready to eat. Most synagogues will coordinate the sending of mishloach manot, but if you want to send these baskets on your own here is a helpful article: How to Make Mishloach Manot for Purim.
On Purim Jews are also supposed to enjoy a festive meal, called the Purim se’udah (meal), as part of their holiday celebration. Oftentimes people will serve hamantaschen, special Purim cookies, during the dessert course.
One of the most interesting commandments related to Purim has to do with drinking. According to Rabinic law, adults of drinking age are supposed to get so drunk that they can’t tell the difference between Mordechai (a hero in the Purim story) and Haman (the villain).
Not everyone participates in this inserted tradition and recovering alcoholics and people with health problems are exempt altogether. This drinking tradition stems from the joyous nature of Purim. (Of course, it goes without saying that if you choose to participate in this custom you should drink responsibly by arranging for a safe ride after your celebrations!)
Purim is not a public holiday in Canada so public offices, schools, many businesses, and transport systems remain open or operational.
Jewish communities in Canada
According to the Royal Ontario Museum, about 196,000 Jewish immigrants came to Canada between 1880 and 1930. The founders of the Toronto and Montreal Jewish communities came from other parts of the British empire prior to this immigration period. The first Jewish immigrants arrived after the British empire possessed New France following the 1763 Paris Treaty that ended the Seven Years’ War.
Canada’s first synagogue was built in 1768. Purim has been celebrated in Canada since the nation’s first Jewish congregation was established in Montreal. Even though the story of Esther is old, the moral of this story is still very significant. One of the hallmarks of this Jewish holiday is that Purim is not rooted in the land of Israel, but in the Diaspora experience – the experience of Jewish people living outside of Israel.
About Purim in other countries
Note: Sefardi Tree wishes to thank the Ontario Royal Museum for background information about Purim and Jewish Canadians