Jewish Journal

How Purim Differs from Halloween

by Susan Esther Barnes

February 27, 2013 | 7:00 am

Photo by Ken King

Since costumes are involved in both events, it’s understandable that people who don’t know much about Purim may think it’s like Halloween. So, with Purim happening last weekend, I thought I’d outline some of the ways in which they differ.

First, while Halloween, or “All Hallows Eve” is about scary stuff like ghosts and demons, Purim is a celebration of the story in the Book of Esther. We read this book during the Purim service, and thus retell the tale of how Queen Esther risked her life and saved all the Jews in Persia.

Yes, there are costumes on Purim. There are several theories about why we wear costumes, including the idea that God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, but is clearly a player in the story. Thus, God was masked, and we mask ourselves on that day.

The mood, though, is not one of scary ghosts and such, but of fun and silliness. The service is filled with alternate music for regular prayers (such as Micha Mocha being sung to a tune from a Broadway show) and alternate, amusing lyrics sung to familiar tunes.

Another way Purim differs from Halloween is that, rather than asking for candy (or anything else), on Purim, we give gifts of sweet things to those in need. For instance, on Purim morning, friends and I greeted families as they arrived to pack mishloach manot bags. These are bags with things like oranges, raisins, and other treats in them. The children decorated the bags, and then after services congregants delivered the bags to people who aren’t as mobile as others, or who might need a pick-me-up for other reasons.

Along those same lines of celebrating while taking care of others, during the reading of the Book of Esther it is traditional to make as much noise as possible to drown out the name of the villain of the story every time his name is mentioned. It’s a clever device, really, because it encourages everyone to listen carefully to the story, and it’s a lot of fun for the kids.

Traditionally, noisemakers called groggers are used. They are usually some kind of ratchet or similar device. Our synagogue, however, has adopted the tradition of having families bring boxes of macaroni and cheese to shake as groggers. Then, after the service, the boxes are dropped into a bin to be picked up by the local food bank. Thus, everyone has a good time, and participates in a mitzvah as well.

So, although Purim may look a bit like Halloween from the outside, on the inside it’s a whole different ballgame.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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