If any religious people can put on a daringly joyous and raucous holiday, Jewish people can. Purim, celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar, will be celebrated this year starting at sunset on March 15 (and continuing till sunset on March 16).
Purim is a holiday based on the book of Esther, which is a ten-chapter tale about Esther and her cousin Mordecai, who are Jews, along with the Persian king and his advisor. The king's advisor, Haman, persuades the king, Ahasuerus, to eliminate all of the Jews, mainly out of anger and jealousy he bears toward Mordecai. Mordecai persuades Esther, who has become the most favored woman in Ahasuerus' harem and thus the Persian queen, to go to the king and ask him not to fulfill Haman's request. After fasting for three days, Esther goes to the king, thus risking her life, because no one is supposed to approach the king without a summons. The king continues to look on Esther favorably despite her unexpected appearance before him, and afterward Esther reveals her Jewish identity, asking him to spare her people. In the end, Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for the leaders of the Jews, and Purim is declared a holiday by Esther herself.
To celebrate Purim, Jewish folks prepare for Purim by fasting. Then they get together to read the Megillah (i.e. the book of Esther). This is no drab reading of scripture, however. Folks show up for Purim in bright costumes, armed with groggers to boo and blot out the name of Haman. The celebration of Purim is a lively ritual enactment of the salvation of the Jewish people from those who would have them annihilated.
According to Esther 9:22, people offer food to their friends and money to the poor. Purim is also a time of obligatory drunkenness--observers of this holiday are supposed to get so drunk, according to Talmud, that they can't tell the difference between cursing the name of Haman and blessing the name of Mordecai!
If you don't make it to your local Purim celebration this weekend, you might try your hand at making triangular, jelly-filled Hamantaschen so you can join in the feasting!
|picture courtesy of Wikipedia|