Veronica Brocca25 February 2022

Where does Carnival come from?

Italy and most of the world are celebrating the lively Carnival in these days. The streets of Europe, United States, Canada and South America are ready to welcome exuberant colors, traditional costumes, masks and a lot of joy, which will culminate in the Shrove Tuesday. The celebration of Carnival was officially institutionalized in 1296, when the Senate of the Repubblica Serenissima announced an edict making the day before Lent a holiday. However, the origins of Carnival are remote and precede the birth of Jesus: in fact, it can be said that Carnival was born in the Holy Land. Traditionally, the festivity has its roots in the well-known Book of Esther, which narrates the establishment of the “most joyful of all festivals”: Purim.

Purim: origin of the feast

Purim is a Jewish fest, which is celebrated every year on the 14th and 15th of the Jewish month of Adàr (March). The celebration remembers the reversal of the destiny of the Jewish people who survived a terrible massacre thanks to the brave intervention of queen Esther. It is precisely in the Book of Esther where we can find the origin of the name and the diffusion of Purim. Esther was a young Jewish girl, raised by the Jewish patriot Mordecai. The story of Esther is set in the era in which the Jews were in exile under the powerful Persian king Ahasuerus. After repudiating his wife Vasthi, the king chose from a multitude of maidens the beautiful Esther as his new bride and queen.

Once in the palace and in the king’s good graces, the young Esther follows the advice of the wise Mordecai. As a matter of fact, she does not reveal to anyone her belonging to the people of Israel. It is curious, in fact, that the name Esther in Hebrew means “I will hide myself”. This is due to the fact that Queen Esther will remain silent about her real identity for a long time. She will reveal it only at the appropriate time

The threat of extermination

The narration continues by exposing the plan of the treacherous Haman the Agagite, a high official of the kingdom and advisor to the king. One day, Haman learns that Mordecai refuses to kneel at his passing. Enraged, he decides to exterminate the Jewish people and has his plan approved by King Ahasuerus. King Ahasuerus is still unaware of the bond between his wife Esther and the Jews. Seized with anguish, Mordecai begs Esther to intercede with the king and convince him to withdraw the order for the massacre.

Queen Esther prepares herself for the meeting with King Ahasuerus with prayers and fasting. She is well aware of the risk she runs: anyone who presents himself to the king without first being officially summoned is guilty of death.

The intervention of Esther

Faithful in God’s help, Esther informs the king of the massacre declared by the impious Haman and begs him to save her people and herself, as a Jewish. Esther’s courage and beauty breaks through to the king’s heart. This latter issues an order of conviction against all the enemies of the Jews in his kingdom, which we read in the biblical book. ” King Ahasuerus allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods, on one day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar”.

The Jews won over all their enemies and Mordecai issues a decree establishing the feast of Purim, because the anguish has turned into joy and mourning into a day of glorious gladness.

The Jewish Carnival

Today, in the month of Adàr, the Jewish people practice a feast from dawn until sunset. The feast is complemented by prayers, in memory of those performed by Esther. This year Purim falls on March the 16 and 17. In those days, the rabbis will read in the synagogues the book of Esther, in Hebrew “Meghillàth Estèr“, then they arrange lavish banquets with typical dishes of the festivity, they exchange gifts and help the people in need. On the occasion of the feast of Purim, the Hamantashenare a must-have: they literally “Aman’s ears” and they are triangular shaped cookies, filled with chocolate or jam with the addition of dried fruit and in the Jewish cuisine they are among the most popular and appreciated sweets.

Purim is characterized by a carnival atmosphere, where young people sing, toast and dance for two whole days and dress up with the most varied costumes, in memory of the reversal of the fate of the Jewish people.

But what does Purim mean?

The etymology is explained in the biblical Book of Esther. “For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, fate, fortune), to crush and to destroy them. But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur”.

Therefore, the term indicates the day of the massacre determined by lot at the hand of Haman.

The Book of Ester ends by stating that every family should remember to celebrate the Purim from generation to generation.