The Festive Purim Gifting Tradition I’ll Never Skip

On a holiday rooted in communal joy, I give mishloach manot.

March  9, 2022
Photo by Linda Xiao

As a kid, nothing filled me with more glee than waking up on Purim morning. It wasn’t the sticky, jam-filled hamantaschen I looked forward to (although I certainly ate my fair share), or even the costume I’d decided to wear, carefully chosen and laid out neatly beside my bed. It was what I knew the day would bring: sharing mishloach manot.

There are four mitzvot (positive commandments) associated with Purim: charity, eating a festive meal, listening to readings from the Book of Esther, and giving mishloach manot. The latter, also known as shalach manot, are gifts of food and drink exchanged with family and friends. Sharing these treat-filled packages is a thrilling tradition—it’s also, arguably, the most important part of the holiday, with ancient, storied roots that stem from the Book of Esther, or as it’s more commonly known, the Megillah.

Read on Purim, the Megillah is a dramatic firsthand account of the story of Purim, written by its heroes, Esther and Mordecai. It details everything from epic, multiday Persian feasts hosted by King Ahasuerus, to the harems full of women vying to be Ahasuerus’ queen. Chiefly, the Megillah recounts how an advisor to the king named Haman tried to annihilate the Jews of Persia, and how bravely the Jewish population defended themselves. The victory over oppressors was miraculous, and in a tale as old as time, it was celebrated with even more joyous feasting. These feasts were shared with friends and strangers; among the rich and poor, barriers broken down.

In the spirit of replicating the communal joy that flowed among the Jews of Persia as they celebrated survival, the Megillah ends by instructing future readers to celebrate the holiday of Purim as a holiday of “feasting and gladness, and sending portions of food to one another, and gifts to the poor.” Mishloach manot, which translates to “sending of portions,” is a way of doing just that. The act of giving cultivates feelings of generosity and connection between giver and recipient. On Purim day in Jewish communities, you can find people driving around to deliver mishloach manot to friends and family, embracing in the streets and exchanging packages. Those who can’t get out and deliver are included in the festivities of the day, too: For many, Purim includes visiting nursing homes, hospital wards, and elderly community members to distribute mishloach manot and cheer. Mishloach manot are sweet gifts with even sweeter functions, fostering connection and inspiring generosity.

The basic rules of what constitutes mishloach manot are simple: Two different items of food sent to at least one person fulfills your religious obligation. What this looks like has changed over the years, and depends on location. Syrian Jews in the 1800s gifted each other graybeh, buttery almond cookies said to resemble Queen Esther’s jewels. My grandfather tells me that Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated to the U.S. after World War II kept things simple, as few had resources to bake. Instead, if you walked around Manhattan’s Lower East Side on a Purim day in the 1940s or 50s, you’d see neighbors exchanging plates of fruit and some penny candies.

Today, some go all out, planning their packages months in advance to coordinate with their costumes. (Dressing up for Purim is another ages-old custom—in contrast to the overt miracles of other holidays, such as Hanukkah or Passover, Purim’s miracles were “costumed,” or hidden, within seemingly natural events.) They'll bake and decorate sugar cookies to match with their costumes, printing elaborate labels to affix to each gift. As kids, my siblings and I couldn’t wait to see people’s themed mishloach manot, and we waited eagerly by the door for a knock signaling another drop-off. Of course, the kind of mishloach manot I appreciate today look vastly different from the ones I enjoyed then, when I scouted only for candy. I vividly remember the year I received 32 mishloach manot from friends—I was nine, and you better believe my dentist had a field day shortly afterward.

These days, I’m all about simpler packages filled with nourishing food. My mom gives nuts and granola with juice; in the past, she’d enlist me to bake and deliver big batches of scones. One of my neighbors, knowing that Purim day tends to be hectic, full of driving and walking to visit friends and family, always sends a hearty breakfast salad with a bagel—that’s probably the most popular mishloach manot on the block. Now, I keep it simple and send chocolate chip cookies with a jug of milk: It always makes people smile, which is a sweet reminder that the roots of this tradition are about spreading joy. And I can’t think of a better way to bring joy to people than with fresh cookies.

Of course, there are no more special mishloach manot than those that are personalized for the recipient. Here are some ideas:

For new parents who desperately need sleep:

Send a bag of locally roasted coffee beans and homemade scones. They’ll appreciate the caffeine and warm baked goods.

For those who appreciate a good charcuterie board:

Put together a small selection of cheeses (think firm, funky, creamy, aged), some seedy crackers, a sweet preserve, and a bottle of natural wine.

For people who love the classics:

Send bagels, smoked salmon, a brick of cream cheese, and a container of sliced red onions and capers. Then hope they invite you to stay for brunch.

For your co-worker who brings enviable salads for lunch:

Send a head of radicchio, a bottle of infused vinegar, a small container of salty feta, and a ripe pear. Instant salad: unlocked.

For the friend who can’t get enough condiments:

Send a container of wontons and a jar of chili crisp. Or a pizza with a bottle of hot honey!

What's your favorite Purim tradition? Sound off in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Hmarra
  • Nancy
  • AConnosoir
I love to bake, take pictures, write and travel. My heart belongs to Israel, Switzerland and NYC. [all good things in moderation} I blog at retrolillies.wordpress.com


Hmarra February 24, 2023
I love this, Chaya! Love the delicious and aesthetic beauty, joy , and community you create as a feeling and with connection and edible joy!

I especially loved hearing about your traditions and could feel the joy and taste the warmth through your food memories. It brought me back to making hamantaschen with my kids with preserves and chocolate chips, their costumes, and the giving of mishloach manot.

I like your invitation to customize mishloach manot to who we are and also to the recipient! Loved the suggestions!!

This Purim, I’m partnering with a JCC, teaching families to plant peas (which is March in the northeast!), which we’ll harvest in June, and share with local food pantries. Families will also take seeds home to plant. Thank you - I haven’t thought of this activity as mishloach manot:) - the growing and giving of our food with our local communities.

Thank you for your joyful invitation shared through your memories in your warm and welcoming way, inviting and inspiring us to greet Purim with our hearts and hands, the simple act of misloach manot connecting us all. I also appreciated the offering of store-bought items, realistic and accessible for many. Enjoy!
Nancy March 14, 2022
Hamantaschen are a late 18th or early 19th century addition to Purim customs - some say because of the popularity of the cookie and/or because mohn (the word for the poppy filling) reminded people of Haman's name.
Either way, I gave up giving (mostly) sweets a few years ago when I learned that the purposes of the shalah manos is to either/both help other Jews have their Purim feast or promote fellow feeling among (perhaps badly treated) minority members in exile.
I give different kits or menus each year - one year, hamim/adafina and side dishes, one year sabich fixings (Iraqi eggplant sandwich buffet), this year fixings for another cheese-vegetable sandwich or salad.
Nancy March 14, 2022
Chaya - forgot to say at top of my not that I enjoyed your article, and have looked at your blog and like that too.
Nancy March 14, 2022
Top of my note...
AConnosoir March 11, 2022
Fascinating how this millenia old tradition is being kept alive. Love the recommendations for different friends!