We start with the mitzvahs we observe on Purim eve and Purim day, but please read on for additional observances that begin even before Purim!
1) Listen To The Megillah
To relive the miraculous events of Purim, listen to the reading of the Megillah (the Scroll of Esther) twice: once on Purim eve, March 20, 2008 and again on Purim day, March 21, 2008.It is crucial to hear every single word of the Megillah!
At certain points in the reading where Haman's name is mentioned, it is customary to twirl graggers (Purim noisemakers) and stamp one's feet to "drown out" his evil name. Tell the children Purim is the only time when it's a mitzvah to make noise!
2) Give to the Needy (Matanot La'evyonim)
Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility; but on Purim it is a special mitzvah to remember the poor.
Give charity to at least two, (but preferably more) needy individuals on Purim day, March 21, 2008.
The mitzvah is best fulfilled by giving directly to the needy. If, however, you cannot find poor people, place at least several coins into a charity box. As in the other mitzvahs of Purim, even small children should fulfill this mitzvah.
For tips on how to fullfil the mitzvah of giving to the poor on Purim day, click here
3) Send Food Portions to Friends (Mishloach Manot)
On Purim we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food to friends.
On March 21, 2008, send a gift of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage), to at least one friend on Purim day. Men should send to men and women to women. It is preferable that the gifts are delivered via a third party. Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.
For helpful hints on how to exchange gifts of food on Purim day, click here.
4) Eat, Drink and be Merry
Purim should be celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim Day, at which family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. It is a mitzvah to drink wine or other inebriating drinks at this meal.
5-6) Special Prayers (Al Hanissim, Torah reading)
On Purim we recite the Al HaNissim prayer in the evening, morning
and afternoon prayers, as well as in the Grace After Meals. In the morning
service there is a special reading from the Torah Scroll in the synagogue.
For the text of the "Al Hanissim" prayer and translation, click here.
For more information on how and when Al Hanissim is said, click here.
Additional Purim Observances:7) Torah Reading of "Zachor"
On the Shabbat before Purim, this year March 15, 2008, a special reading is held in the synagogue of the Torah section called Zachor ("Remember"), in which we are enjoined to remember the deeds of (the nation of)Amalek (Haman's ancestor) who sought to destroy the Jewish people.
For more insights on Parshat Zachor, click here.
8) The Fast of Esther
To commemorate the day of prayer and fasting that the Jewish people held at Esther's request, we fast on the day before Purim, this year March 20, 2008, from approximately an hour before sunrise until nightfall (approximately 40 minutes after sunset).
9) The "Half Coins" (Machatzit Hashekel)
It is a tradition to give three half-dollar coins to charity to commemorate the half-shekel that each Jew contributed as his share in the communal offerings in the time of the Holy Temple. This custom, usually performed in the synagogue, is done on the afternoon of the "Fast of Esther," or before the reading of the Megillah.
For more on the Half Coins, click here.
10-11) Purim Customs: Masquerades and Hamantashen
A time-honored Purim custom is for children to dress up and disguise themselves-an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments. This is also the significance behind a traditional Purim food, the hamantash-a pastry whose filling is hidden within a three-cornered crust.
12) Shushan Purim
The fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar are celebrated as Purim. The specific day on which Purim is celebrated depends on the location; in places where Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth, it is not celebrated on the fifteenth and vice versa.
Why were different days established as Purim in different cities? Why wasn't one day chosen as Purim in all cities, just as other festivals are celebrated on the same day in every city? In Shushan the battle took place on the thirteenth and fourteenth of Adar and the people rested and celebrated only on the fifteenth. It was therefore proper that only the city of Shushan should celebrate on the fifteenth of Adar, for it was only there that Purim was celebrated on that day.
Information courtesy of Virtual Purim, a project of Chabad.org