Purim is one of the most cheerful holidays in the Jewish calendar. In fact, however, the Purim story from the Book of Esther has its dark side. The Biblical Megillat Esther recounts a plan to murder all the Jews in Persia.
The story tells of the evil vizier Haman, who wins King Ahasuerus’s (Artaxerxes II, 405-359 b.c.e.) consent for his plot, and of two Jews, Mordechai and his niece, the beautiful Esther, Ahasuerus’s queen who prevents the plan through an act of courage in the presence of the king. Hearing Esther’s plea, the king decides to kill not the Jews, but their enemies instead. This rescue is celebrated in late winter through feasts and costume parties and sending gifts of food to friends and the poor.