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ETHERIDGE: Purim is the other mid-March celebration
Denise Etheridge
Denise Etheridge

Move over St. Patrick’s Day, you’re not the only party-hardy holiday to celebrate in mid-March this year. There’s also Purim, a raucous Mardi Gras-like affair that promises its costumed celebrants fabulous food and frivolity.

Why do we Jews observe Purim? To celebrate what we Jews have celebrated throughout millennia — our continued survival against all odds.

And of course, there’s a compelling origin story about the holiday.

Purim, known as the Feast of Lots, is observed on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. This year the holiday is from sunset on March 16 through sunset on March 17. The Purim story is found in the Book of Esther. Esther was a brave young Jewish woman who became Queen of Persia and at the urging of her guardian, the wise Mordecai, saved her people from a massacre.

The story begins when King Ahasuerus demands that his first wife, Vashti, dance unclothed before him and his drunken court. She refuses and he divorces her. The king then has maidens from across the kingdom brought to him so he may select his next queen.

Esther is chosen but keeps her Jewish identity secret. When the king’s adviser, the evil Haman, convinces the king that the Jews are enemies of the state and must be annihilated, Mordecai convinces Esther to plead for her people’s lives. Esther was putting her own life at risk, because to approach the king without an invitation was punishable by death. Fortunately, the king warmly received her and the Jewish people were permitted to arm themselves against Haman’s followers. Soon after the Jews’ victory over their aggressors, Haman was hanged.

The scroll of Esther, the Megillah, is read aloud in the synagogue on Purim. Congregants twirl noisemakers, stomp and boo every time wicked Haman’s name is mentioned, so as to “blot out” the evildoer. Heinous Haman has come to symbolize the recurrence of malicious anti-Semites throughout history.

At home, families delight in baking and eating hamantaschen. These cake-like triangular cookies are usually filled with fruit jams. Families and friends gather for a festive meal, and the reasonable consumption of alcoholic beverages is encouraged.

Many Jewish religious schools put on a Purim play, to retell the story of Esther. My daughter played Esther when she was in first grade, and my son played Mordecai when he was 5. The kids love to dress up, and most synagogues and Jewish community centers also host Purim carnivals with games, food and costume contests.

Another important tradition at Purim is to give friends and family gift baskets of food and drink, and to donate food items or money to charities that feed the hungry. This mitzvah, or good deed, is known as mishloach manot.

So, “Chag Purim sameach!” Which means, “Happy Purim!”

Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The Walton Tribune and a Newton County resident. Her email is