How To Explain Purim to Kids and Ways To Celebrate the Jewish Holiday

Purim is ripe for parodies and the one getting the spotlight this year is from The Maccabeats. Their Encanto parody "We Don't Talk About Haman" is a fun way to learn about this Jewish holiday.

Purim decorations
Photo: Getty

When you think of a Jewish holiday, what holiday springs to mind?

Hanukkah? Passover? Yom Kippur?

Most people don't think of the small but mighty holiday of Purim, but they should. It's got everything a great Jewish holiday should have. There's an inside joke that most Jewish holidays follow a certain formula: They tried to kill us. They failed. Let's eat. Purim has that and more! It's often described as a Jewish springtime version of Halloween. Though Purim is much older than Halloween—the celebration dating back to at least the first century BCE.

Purim Has a Lot To Celebrate

  • Costumes for kids and adults!
  • Exciting retellings of the story of the Book of Esther!
  • Noisemakers!
  • Hamantaschen! (delicious triangular cookies)
  • Yummy food gifts!
  • Indulging in food and wine (for adults) and fun!

What Is Purim?

Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the bravery of Queen Esther, the secretly Jewish wife of King Ahasuerus of Persia. The story is recounted in the Book of Esther and read in a special scroll called the Megillah.

Esther's cousin, Mordechai, uncovers a plot being hatched by the King's viceroy, Haman. Haman was annoyed that Mordechai would not bow down to him (typical narcissist), so Haman planned to have Mordechai and all the Jews in the land executed. In order to stop Haman's evil plot, Mordechai urges Esther to tell the King that she is Jewish and to reveal what Haman has been up to behind the King's back.

Queen Esther puts herself at great risk on behalf of the Jewish people. She cannot assume that the King will be pleased that she kept a secret from him, nor that he will call off the impending slaughter. Luckily, the King takes his wife's words seriously, and Haman is then hanged for his misdeeds.

During the reading of the story, every time the name Haman is said, the room of listeners explodes with loud booing and the sound of special noisemakers which kids particularly enjoy. (Word to the wise if your kid attends a Purim celebration: get the grogger (noisemaker) out of their hands before they get into the car later. You'll thank me.)

Some synagogues will read the entire story in Hebrew, some in English, and some will perform a play based on the Purim story, called a spiel. These are often written by congregants and acted out with costumes, and they're kitschy and over-the-top. This year's favored spiel theme is to use the music of the Disney hit movie Encanto to retell the story, while previous years featured Hamilton a presidential election, Frozen, and the list goes on and on.

Purim is ripe for parodies and the one getting the spotlight this year is from The Maccabeats and their Encanto parody "We Don't Talk About Haman."

Past parodies have included "Purim Shark" to the tune of "Baby Shark" and "Purim Song," a "Raise Your Glass" parody.

There's even a Drag Queen Purim Story Time!

When Is Purim?

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, or on the 14th day of the month of Adar II if it is a Jewish leap year. In 2022, Purim begins on the evening of March 16th and continues to sunset of March 17th. Purim can, from year to year, land anywhere from late-February through late March.

How To Involve Kids in Your Celebration

One of the easiest ways to enjoy Purim is to make Hamantaschen. These triangular cookies (shaped to resemble Haman's hat) are a crowd-pleaser, and kids can help making them, too! I'll share my favorite recipe in a little bit. Traditional fillings are poppy seed, prune, and apricot, though there are as many variations as there are Jews. My family always demands some traditional flavors, as well as Nutella and raspberry.

It is traditional to give food gifts to other community members on Purim to make sure that everyone has something festive to eat. These gifts are called Mishloach Manot, and must consist of at least two different types of food. Kids love being sent to deliver these packages to their friends' houses, and being given packages in return. In short, lots of sugar changes hands and ends up in tummies. It's also traditional to generously give money to charity.

Many synagogues or Jewish communities will host Purim carnivals. Imagine your typical school carnival atmosphere with lots of games and prizes, kids (and many adults) dressed up in costume, as well as snacks. When I worked at a synagogue, we even had many non-Jewish families who came to enjoy the carnival and of course nosh on those yummy Hamantaschen.

Kids love to listen to the retelling of the Purim story, and while they may not understand as much if it's entirely in Hebrew, they will quickly learn the name Haman (boooo!) which they will wildly blot out with loud yelling and maniacal groggering (making noise with a special noisemaker). And who doesn't like to get a second use out of those Halloween costumes? That is, if your kids are still into the same things they were five months ago.

Purim has a little something for everyone, and honestly, many of the themes are timeless. There will always be bad guys (boooo!), we'll always have to stick together and stand up for people we love, and we could all do with some fun to lift us out of our dregs of winter doldrums.

Hamantaschen (Makes about a dozen palm-sized cookies)

Dough Ingredients:

  • 2 c. flour + a little for rolling out the dough
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. melted margarine or butter
  • 1/2 c. sugar (optional: 1 lemon rind, grated)

Filling:

Store-bought jam of your choice, poppy seed pie filling, or Nutella

Instructions:

Beat eggs and melted margarine/butter together with the sugar (and lemon rind, if you're using it).

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt, and work it into the egg/butter mixture. Form into a ball and refrigerate for 1 hour.

On a floured surface, roll the dough until it is 1/4" thick. Use a biscuit cutter or a glass to cut the dough into circles and place on parchment-lined baking tray.

Place 1/4 tsp. of your filling in the middle of each round of dough, turning up the edges over the filling to create a triangle.

Pinch the edges together (use a little cold water if you are having trouble getting them to stick) and brush the edges with a little egg yolk/water mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until edges of the cookies just turn golden brown. Let cool on cookie sheet or transfer to cooling rack. Cookies keep well for 3-4 days in a tightly-sealed plastic container, if they last that long.

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