Why We Eat Hamantaschen During Purim

Have you heard of the Jewish holiday Purim? Celebrated every March or April, depending on the Hebrew calendar, the celebration falls on the evening of March 16 this year. The holiday is a remembrance of the time period of the 5th century B.C.E., when Jews living in exile in Persia, or present-day Iran, were marked for death by the cruel Persian leader Haman, chief minister to the Persian king ​​Ahasuerus (via Britannica).

As the story goes, King ​​Ahasuerus' wife, Esther, a Jewish woman who concealed her identity to become the Persian queen, attended a banquet at which Haman was present, pleading the case of the Jews. When her husband, the king, found Haman begging Esther for mercy, he mistook his actions for an attack and sentenced Haman to death (via Britannica). After Haman was hanged, the Jewish people obtained a royal edict to attack their enemies on the 13th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Adar — the day on which Purim is now celebrated — and were victorious.

It should be noted that the historical veracity of this Purim origin is widely debated, according to Britannica, and that the Purim celebration was already an established tradition by the 2nd century C.E. Nevertheless, there's one specific Purim custom that has endured all these years, and that's the consumption of hamantaschen cookies, triangles of rich dough that encase sweet fillings. So what's the origin story of this Purim tradition? 

Hamantaschen may represent Haman's hat

According to Brittanica, Haman, the chief minister to the Persian king in the Purim story, was an evil man who was determined to execute large numbers of Jews in the Persian kingdom. It is this man who is remembered during Purim celebrations, when the tri-cornered pastries called hamantaschen are eaten. As The Spruce Eats explains, these pastries, which often surround a jam or fruit filling but were originally made with sweetened poppy seeds, were long known in Germany and were called mohntaschen or "poppy seed pockets." At some point in the 15th century, German Jews dubbed them hamantaschen, or "Haman's pockets," as a play on words that alluded to the rumor that the villain's pockets were stuffed with bribe money.

But another common theory behind the hamantaschen tradition holds that the doughy triangles represent Haman's hat. It is said that the officer wore a tri-cornered hat, and that the three corners on a hamantaschen cookie make reference to it. However, as noted by The Spruce Eats, such hats were not actually in fashion during Haman's time, and it's more likely that the association was made later on, when the hats came into style.

Whatever the exact origin of eating hamantaschen during Purim, the treats are associated with Haman — and an attempt to erase his memory through the act of eating them. As tasty as they are, any excuse to eat them is a good one.