The story of Purim is all in the Book of Esther, in your Tanakh. The Book of Esther is a very short, 10-chapter book in your Tanakh and it should not take you more than 30 minutes to read. Also called the Megillah, this book is read twice during Purim, once the night before, as all Jewish holidays begin at sundown the night before, and during the morning at the synagogue where there is a special way to read it; in the meantime, there are about three or four different versions on Netflix that you can watch.
Briefly, this is the story of Purim, but you need to read the Megillah yourself.
The story takes place in the Persian Empire (now Iran) in the year 357 BCE, more or less, or about 2,375 years ago. In the third year of his reign, King Ahasuerus threw a lavish party which lasted six months, to which he summoned his wife, Queen Vashti, to display her beauty and dance, in front of all his guests. When Vashti refused to obey his command, he had her vanished for insubordination.
Ahasuerus began a kingdom-wide search for a new queen, adding a virgin girl to his harem every night in the process, but not finding a suitable replacement, until Esther—a beautiful Jewish girl—was brought before him, together with dozens of other beautiful women. He fell in love with her and made her the new queen. She had not wanted to be part of the search, and would not tell him anything about her being a Jewess.
Soon after his marriage to Esther, Haman became the chief adviser to Ahasuerus. Haman felt slighted by Mordecai, a Jew who refused to kneel before him whenever Haman paraded down the city to be praised, and who, unknown to Haman, or the king, was Esther’s cousin. Haman obtained permission from the king to send out a decree to the entire kingdom calling for all the Jews to be killed on the 13th of Adar. He chose this date, which he hoped would be auspicious, using lots. (The Persian word for lot was pur; the plural is lots, or Purim. The holiday of Purim gets its name from this event.).
Mordecai heard the sad news, and sent word to Esther about this decree, and called upon her to intercede with the king. This was a risky move for Esther, as it was forbidden to see the king without first being summoned by him, and he had, after all, killed his previous wife for not obeying his orders. Nevertheless, she agreed to take action. She called for a three-day fast among the Jews in the city of Shushan, were they lived. After the fast, she went to see the king fearing for her life. However, she found favor in the king’s eyes, and he offered to give her anything she wanted.
After a couple of more run-ins involving Mordecai and Haman, Esther informed the king that Haman was, in fact, plotting to kill her (and all of her people). Incensed, the king ordered Haman to be hanged, along with his ten sons (for good measure), and installed Mordecai in Haman’s place as Vizier. While the original decree could not be rescinded because once the ring of the king had sealed a law it could never be rescinded, Mordecai was able to send out a second decree calling upon the Jews to defend themselves and kill their enemies. This they did, routing all opposition on the 13th of Adar, and celebrating on the 14th. This celebration on the 14th of Adar is now observed and celebrated annually, on Purim.
As you can see, this was one of many pogroms against the Jews, one which was stopped on time. Read the book, like I said before it is all full of love, treason, espionage, etc.
Now, exactly how is Purim celebrated? When? And who?
Purim is celebrated yearly on the 14th of Adar (March 11, 2017, in the evening, and all day on the 12th). We begin by having a fast on the 11th of March, in honor of Esther, who fasted for three days. On the first night we break the fast and we read the The Book of Esther or The Megillah, in the synagogue, and while you are reading it, make sure you make a lot of noise whenever you mention the name of Haman (kids have a blast with this). Then at home you have a big meal, breaking the fast, and you are commanded to have a good time. The next morning, after the morning prayers, you read the book again, hopefully at the synagogue one more time, where most children will be wearing costumes and masks, and then you have to give charity to two poor people, at least. It is a requirement and an obligation. The law, however, is that you really need to give to whoever asks you to contribute. This is a day when most Jewish charities fatten their coffers because they ask for donations; and because of the law, people are obligated to give. Also, this is a day when you need to pick at least one friend, hopefully more, and give them a gift of two ready-to-eat foods and drinks. And of course, because of what you will read in the Book of Esther, you are allowed to drink, let’s say, more than usual.