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What Is Purim?

Purim, or the Festival of Lots, is a joyous holiday that celebrates the Biblical story of the rescue of the Jews in ancient Persia.

Purim is a time for colorful costumes, special treats, and festivals.

© iStock.com/makarenko07

Is Purim a Public Holiday?

Purim is not a public holiday in the United States. Some Jewish-run organizations are closed.

When Is Purim?

The holiday of Purim is observed on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar (or Adar II in Leap Years) in the Hebrew calendar.Purim falls in February or March in the Gregorian calendar.

Divine Intervention

According to the Megillah (the Book of Esther), Purim celebrates the miraculous rescue of the Jewish people from a plot to destroy their community in a single day during the fifth century BCE.

The narrative says that the villain of the story, the Prime Minister of the Persian Empire, known as Haman, had thrown lots (a practice of casting pebbles or drawing straws to determine divine will) to choose the day to carry out his murderous plan against the Jews. The Hebrew word Purim translates as “lots” in ancient Persian.

Purim recalls the divinely-assisted intervention of Esther, the Jewish wife of Persian King Ahasuerus, on behalf of her people. According to the Torah, thanks to her actions, the ruler was swayed to revoke the order to kill the Jews. Haman was then executed and, for a while, the Jews of the area enjoyed the protection of the crown.

Carnival for the Kids

After the reading of the story of Purim in the synagogue, it's common for the temple to host a carnival with prizes and games for children.

Kids (and some adults) wear colorful costumes, often dressed as biblical characters like Mordechai (or Mordecai), a Jewish advisor to the King of Persia, and the heroic Queen Esther.

A children's Purim spiel (play) is often part of the fun. These shows can include song parodies that take a satiric look at modern life, and weave elements of the Purim story into the plot. Every time Haman´s name is spoken during these plays, children crank special noisemakers to boo the villain.

Gift Giving and Hamantashen

Two important Purim traditions are for friends to exchange gifts of food, and to make donations to the poor.

On the Purim table, triangle-shaped dishes are traditionally served at holiday parties to remind the worshippers of the legendary shape of Haman's hat.

One favorite on the holiday menu is a three-cornered pastry called hamantaschen, filled with apricot jam, prunes, or poppy seeds. Another popular dish is kreplach, which are triangular dumplings served in chicken soup.

Walled Cities Have Their Own Date

Jews around the globe celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar, with a fascinating exception. People who live in walled cities such as Jerusalem celebrate a day later.

This is to honor the Jews of the ancient walled city of Shushan, who were in battle on that first Purim day, and so had delay the celebration by 24 hours. Today, only Jerusalem celebrates Purim on the 15th of Adar.

Jewish Holidays Last Longer Outside of Israel

In the Jewish diaspora—Jewish communities outside of Israel—an extra day is usually added to religious observances, with the exception of Yom Kippur, which lasts only one day worldwide, and Rosh Hashana, which is celebrated over two days in both Israel and the diaspora.

This custom has its roots in ancient times when the beginning of the months in the Jewish calendar still relied on the sighting of the crescent Moon following a New Moon.

The beginning of a new month was determined by the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of ancient Israel in Jerusalem. Once the date was published, messengers were dispatched to spread the news among Jews living abroad. Since this process took some time, it was decreed that Jews outside of ancient Israel were to observe every holiday for two days to make sure that the rules and customs applicable to each holiday were observed on the proper date. This rule is still observed today.

About Purim in Other Countries

Read more about Purim.

Purim Observances

Note: Jewish holidays begin at sundown the day before the date specified for the holiday.

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2018ThuMar 1PurimJewish holiday
2019ThuMar 21PurimJewish holiday
2020TueMar 10PurimJewish holiday
2021FriFeb 26PurimJewish holiday
2022ThuMar 17PurimJewish holiday
2023TueMar 7PurimJewish holiday
2024SunMar 24PurimJewish holiday
2025FriMar 14PurimJewish holiday
2026TueMar 3PurimJewish holiday
2027TueMar 23PurimJewish holiday
2028SunMar 12PurimJewish holiday

While we diligently research and update our holiday dates, some of the information in the table above may be preliminary. If you find an error, please let us know.