Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The holiday of Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jews from the wicked Haman. Through the leadership of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai, a decree against the Jews in the Persian Empire was suddenly overturned.

Purim takes place on the 14th day of Adar, the 12th month of the Jewish calendar. (In a leap year, it takes place in Adar II, while a minor holiday, Purim Katan, takes place in Adar I.) It usually falls in March. In 2008, Purim begins at sundown on March 20.

The traditional observances of Purim include public readings of the Book of Esther, feasting, gifts of charity to the poor, and gifts of food among friends. Other popular activities include staging comedic plays, dressing up in costumes, holding beauty contests, and marching in parades. The carnival-like atmosphere of Purim sometimes leads to it being referred to as the “Jewish Mardi Gras” or “Jewish Halloween” by non-Jews.

As with many holidays, Purim has a food of its own: hamantaschen. Literally “Haman's pockets,” these triangular cookies are said to resemble Haman's three-cornered hat. These traditionally contain poppy-seed or prune fillings, but other fruit fillings are also popular.

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