Purim customs from around the world in days gone by

Purim customs from around the world in days gone by.


On Purim eve, torches containing gunpowder would be ignited. During the Megillah reading, the gunpowder exploded with a deafening noise. They also prepared doll-shaped cakes, called “Haman”. The children would cut off the doll’s head and eat it with great glee.


The youngsters would divide into two camps and throw nuts at each other. They also placed an effigy of Haman in a high place, and encircled it, to the sound of trumpets.


Children used to take smooth stones, write or engrave Haman’s name on them, and strike them together during the Megillah reading whenever Haman’s name was mentioned.


On the eve of Shabbat Zachor, they would bake Haman-shaped cakes. These would then be sliced and eaten during the Purim meal, fulfilling the precept: “And they shall devour Haman with open mouth”.


The young men rode through the Jewish street on horsebacks, camels and asses, in memory of the verse “and they brought him on horseback through the street of the city”.


The children prepared a large effigy of Haman, filling its clothes with gunpowder. In the middle of the courtyard, they set up a large stick, from which they “hung” Haman. They then threw oil over the effigy and set it alight.


All the younger schoolchildren made small “Hamans” out of paper, and the older ones made a large “Haman” out of rags, old clothes and straw. All the townspeople would gather by the school. A large bonfire was prepared and everyone stood round it. By turn, all the children went up and threw the “Hamans” they had made into the fire.


The youngsters threw an effigy of Haman into the fire and jumped over the fire, competing to see who could jump highest.


The ground would usually be covered with snow at Purim time so a large snow-Haman was built next to the synagogue. This Haman had a funny-shaped torso, long thick legs, like an elephant’s, a large head, eyes of charcoal, a carrot for a nose, and a piece of beetroot for the mouth. A “gold chain” made out of water melon peels was hung over the stomach as a symbol of office, and a broken pot was placed on the head.

After the meal, the whole community gathered round the Haman. A large fire was made around it of wood, rags and paper, and they stood and watched until Haman melted in the heat and disappeared, singing until it was completely melted.


The children drew pictures of Haman on planks or cardboard. During the Megillah reading, the planks were thrown to the ground and trampled on, making a lot of noise. The synagogue carpets were taken up and the congregants trampled underneath them, in case Haman was hiding there.


Even before Purim, the children of the “Heder” would set up two sticks “lengthwise and crosswise”, like a kind of cross, cover them and declare in a loud voice: “Haman the wicked.” This is the source of the Yemenite Jewish saying: “In Adar - we put up Haman crosses”.

In some places in Yemen, the children used to put a kind of scarecrow in a wooden cart with a horse. Two beads were stuck into its head for eyes, a beard was attached, and it was dressed in colorful tattered clothes, and adorned with a kind of absurd decoration. The children placed the scarecrow on a wooden horse and preceded it, calling out: “thus shall be done to the wicked Haman”.

The “Haman” was then hung from a high tree in the courtyard of the synagogue, where it was taunted. In some places, Haman’s cross was left until the end of Purim, and then taken down and burnt.

24th Feb 2021 Barbara Shaw

Recent Posts