Why We Make Hamantaschen for Purim

Sweet Treats and Costumes Are Key to Celebrating This Jewish Holiday

The author shows off a plate of Hamantaschen she prepared for Purim, which starts on February 25 this year. | Credit: Courtesy

Purim is upon us, and like Chanukah, the holiday celebrates historical events that are best summed up by the Jewish adage: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.

And eat we do. Commemorating Queen Esther’s victory over Haman’s plot to kill every Jew in Persia, Purim is a jolly and boisterous affair. In addition to an interactive reading of the Book of Esther, the 24-hour holiday, which begins on the night of February 25, is full of festive feasts, sweet treats, and the giving of Mishloach Manotgoodie bags filled with cookies, chocolates, and other dainty delights — to friends, family, and those in need.

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Somewhere between a Jewish Mardi Gras and Halloween, on Purim you are encouraged to dress up in costume, often as one of the characters in the legendary tale or as your alter ego. Purim, which translates as “dice” or “casting lots,” got its name from Haman throwing dice to choose the day he would carry out his unsavory plans. For this reason, we eat sweets on Purim in a symbolic effort to sweeten our lots.

There’s no shortage of traditional Purim dishes from around the world, but one dish takes center stage, even since its first mention in an 11th-century French prayer book: Hamantaschen, which means “Haman’s pocket” in Yiddish. These filled triangular cookies are said to allude to the bribes that Haman took during his time as Prime Minister of Persia, while others believe the cookie resembles his three-pointed hat. 

In The World of Jewish Cooking, writer Gil Marks explains, “Many Purim dishes involve a filling, alluding to the many intrigues, secrets, and surprises unfolding in the Purim story.” Traditionally, Hamantaschen were filled with a poppyseed paste known as mohn, or with prune jam, but today’s recipes feature fruit jams, nuts, chocolate, candies, and even savory fillings. Originally made with a yeast dough, sugar cookie dough is now more common. 

Whatever style you choose, these foods should remind us of the deeper message that comes with Purim: Even in the darkest of times, there is hope, so long as we are brave and willing to stand up against evil.

Learn to make Hamantaschen during the Jewish Federation’s Purim-themed segment of Get Baked with Chef Doug, on Thursday, February 18, at 5 p.m.. See jewishsantabarbara.org. For the younger crowd, Edjudaica’s Purim Sock Puppet Party is Sunday, February 21, 2 p.m., when Purim characters will come to life and kids can brainstorm ideas for Purim Spiels, which are humorous skits about Queen Esther’s victory. Register at edjudaica.com.

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