What is Purim?
Purim, or the Feast of Lots, is a joyous holiday that recounts the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre. The holiday is traditionally celebrated with a Carnivale and Skits, and with the giving of gifts to friends and the poor.
A major tradition is the Purim Shpiel, The Purim Play, during which fun is poked at community leaders and members. Often referred to as Jewish carnivale, this is a festival in which people dress up either in costumes of characters from the bible or just jovial items that would not normally be worn everyday.
The overriding theme of Purim is the saving of the Jews from a mortal threat. The holiday of Purim has become one of the best-loved holidays of the Jewish year. The reasons for this are easy to see. It is a joyous holiday on which everyone relaxes and has fun. The story of Purim holds out the hope that no matter how bad the circumstances, things will turn out well in the end. Most Carnivals have an overarching theme specific for the year in order for people who want to dress up and have fun to really let go.
The Purim Spiel
A Purim spiel is actually a play of the events found in the Bible. Featuring the main characters, such as King Ahasuerus, Mordecai, Esther, and the wicked Haman, the Purim spiel provides an opportunity for crowds to cheer the heroes and boo the villains. Many modern synagogue Purim celebrations allow children to attend the play and carnival dressed in costumes depicting these main characters.
Often, a school will hold a costume contest and organize a parade of all the costumed children. While it is traditional to dress as characters from the story, many Jewish families celebrate Purim as an alternative to Halloween, with children dressing in non-traditional costumes and masks. There is no “right” or “wrong” costume for Purim.
Many synagogues hold special family or children’s services on Purim, or make a point of including families so that the children will be able to not only attend in costume, but shake their noisemakers and contribute to the merriment through making lots of noise.