At sunset tonight the Jewish holiday of Purim begins. It is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which typically falls in March. It is a joyful and festive holiday; in fact some consider it to be like a Jewish Mardi Gras. Children dress in costumes and make gragers, which are noise makers. Here is a very simple and abridged version of the story of Purim:
Long ago the Jews lived in Persia under the rule of King Ahasuerus. The King was looking for a new wife and he decided on a young woman named Esther. After her parents died Esther was raised by her cousin Mordecai. Esther's cousin suggested she keep her identity as a Jew a secret and she did. The King had an advisor named Haman who was an evil and vain man. He wanted everyone to bow before him but Mordecai wouldn't because the Jewish people only bow before G-d. Haman decided not just to punish Mordecai but to annihilate the Jewish people. He convinced King Ahasuerus that the Jewish people needed to be punished. Haman was casting lots or Purim to decide on the date of the massacre. When Esther discovered what was happening she risked her own life by revealing to the King that she was a Jew herself. The King then executed Haman and the Jewish people were saved.
In order to celebrate the holiday Jews must eat, drink and be merry... what a fun holiday! The book of Esther known as the Megillah is read in synagogue. Whenever Haman's name is mentioned everyone will use their noise makers to drown out the sound of his name. It is also common to give gifts of food and drink. The most common food during Purim are the tasty Hamentaschen treats. They are fruit filled cookies that are shaped in triangles to represent Haman's hat. It is also common to hold plays, parodies and carnivals.