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Purim is one of the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar, commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from a plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther.
The story of Purim is generally recited from the Megillah, a parchment scroll on which The Book of Esther is written.
Purim celebrates the bravery of Esther, a Jewish woman chosen to become part of the Persian king’s harem. Esther kept her Jewish identity a secret until she learned that the king’s adviser, Haman, had convinced the king to allow him to exterminate all Jews.
Going before the king without being summoned, a move which could have cost Esther her life, she revealed to the king her Jewish heritage and convinced him to stop the mass killing. On the day the executions had been scheduled, Haman and his sons were hanged instead.
Mordecai, Esther's cousin, replaced Haman as the king's adviser and the Jews were delivered from being the victims of an evil decree against them and were instead allowed by the destroy their enemies. The day after the battle was designated as Purim, a day of feasting and rejoicing.
Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies. As with all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sundown on the previous secular day.
Purim is celebrated with public recitations of the Megillah (much noise and hissinmg whenever Haman's name is mentioned), the giving of gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal.
Other Purim customs include drinking wine, wearing masks and costumes, and public celebrations.
In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its thirteenth day ... on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their adversaries.
And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a day of feasting and gladness.
[Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor.
Harkening back to the evil plot to destroy the Jews, the gift giving custom is an attempt to perennially repair that rift.
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