Purim is a minor Jewish festival, celebrated on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar. The name Purim means “lots” and is in memory of the lots that were drawn by the enemy of the Jewish people, Haman, in order to decide on which day to annihilate the Jews. The Jews were miraculously saved from his evil plot and have celebrated ever since on this day.
As with every Jewish festival, customs vary from place to place in the world. Here are some interesting examples of different customs from all over the globe:
- In Germany on the eve of the festival, torches containing gunpowder were ignited and the gunpowder would explode during the reading of the Megillah (the scroll that is read twice on the holiday of Purim that tells the story of the day).
- There was a town in Germany where two candles would be lit in the Synagogue on the eve of the holiday- one called Haman (the wicked man in the Purim story), and one Zeresh (Haman’s wife). The candles were left to burn down entirely and signified that so too should the haters of Israel burn.
- In Italy there was a custom for young children to split into two camps and throw nuts at each other. The adults would ride through the streets on horseback, holding cypress branches.
- In France children would take two smooth stones, write or engrave the name Haman on them and strike them together during the Megillah reading whenever the name of Haman was mentioned in compliance with the famous verse, “I shall surely wipe out the memory of Amalek” (Haman was a descendant of Amalek).
- In Algeria the children were invited to light wax candles at the Purim meal.
- In Egypt the young men would ride through the Jewish street on horseback, camels and donkeys due to the verse from the Megillah that reads “and they brought him on horseback through the streets of the city,” regarding Mordechai, one of the heroes of the Purim story.
- In Libya an effigy of Haman would be thrown into the fire and the youngsters would jump over the fire, seeing who could jump the highest.
- In Afghanistan the children would draw pictures of Haman on planks or cardboard, throw the planks on the ground during the reading of the Megillah and trample on them, making a lot of noise. The Synagogue carpets would also be lifted and the congregants would trample the place they had laid on in case Haman was hiding there.