A Purim spiel (also spelled Purimshpil, from Yiddish shpil, meaning 'game, play', see also spiel) or Purim play is the term used to describe an ensemble of festive practices, usually a comic dramatization of the Book of Esther, the central text and narrative that describes what transpired on Purim and why it has become an important Jewish holiday. It may be an informal theatrical production, with costumed participants, often including children.
By the 18th century in eastern Romania and some other parts of Eastern Europe, Purim plays (called Purimshpiln, Yiddish: פּורימשפּילן) had evolved into broad-ranging satires with music and dance, precursors to Yiddish theater, for which the story of Esther was little more than a pretext: indeed, by the mid-19th century, some were even based on other stories, such as Joseph sold by his brothers, Daniel, or the Binding of Isaac. Since satire was deemed inappropriate for the synagogue itself, they were usually performed outdoors in its court. Purimspiels are still performed in many communities. In France, Purim plays continue to be widely performed, particularly in active Ashkenazi communities.
A favorite form of a Purim Spiel for children is enacted in puppet shows with the Purim characters and their antics making the children laugh.
The festival of Purim, which recalls the events of the Book of Esther, features characters whose identity, natures, or intent are "hidden." In fact, although the miraculous survival of the Persian Jews in the Book of Esther is due to God's intervention, God's name never appears in the Book of Esther. In the Book of Esther, the decree of the wicked Haman was annulled and the Jewish people living in the ancient Persian Empire were saved from the edict of death and genocide instigated against them by Haman.