Meet the Holidays: Purim

One of our favorite Museum programs is “Meet the Holidays,” in which we learn about and celebrate the traditions of cultures all around the world. “We live in a global community and Atlanta is an extremely multi-cultural city,” explains Pam Duncan, manager of public programming. “Meet the Holidays allows our youngest visitors to learn about cultures different than their own as well as re-affirm those cultures for folks who celebrate them. In the end they find out that their cultures have much more in common than they thought.” We really love the experience of people having a great time and also learning about the special days on their neighbors’ calendars!

This Sunday, we’re having some special events to commemorate Purim. This is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire, from a plot to annihilate them all in a single day. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, the royal vizier to King Ahasuerus, planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by the prophet Mordecai, and his cousin and adopted daughter Esther. Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, which is the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies.


It sounds like the setup for a pretty sober and serious commemoration, but based on the text of Esther 9:22, Purim is celebrated with joy and good spirits. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, all of the observances are important, but they are equally “serious and silly.” The Book, or scroll, of Esther, is usually read aloud twice during the celebrations. The recitation is called the Megillah, and it comes with a raucous audience participation component, as the audience is armed with graggers, special noisemakers that you shake or whirl to drown out the evildoer’s name:

“It is crucial to hear every single word of the Megillah! At certain points in the reading where Haman’s name is mentioned, it is customary to twirl graggers and stamp one’s feet to “drown out” his evil name. Tell the children Purim is the only time when it’s a mitzvah to make noise!” The USCJ goes on to say that when Haman’s wife, Zeresh, gets mentioned in the Megillah, the crowd is to hiss at the sound of her name!

For our Meet the Holidays celebration on Sunday March 9th, you’ll be able to make your own gragger before listening to the Imaginators’ retelling of the Meglliah story. Every time Haman’s name is mentioned, shake your gragger and boo! Afterward, enjoy traditional hamantaschen cookies. Hamantaschen is a Yiddish word meaning “Haman’s pockets.” Jews eat hamantaschen on Purim as part of the celebration of the holiday. One explanation for the triangular shape of these pastries is that Haman wore a three-cornered hat. Another explanation is that the three corners represent Queen Esther’s strength and the founders of Judaism: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

We kick off the fun at three on Sunday, and look forward to seeing you there!

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