Choosing Your Purim Costume: How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation, Stereotypes, and Racism

February 24, 2021Anita Kuykendall Stoll and Gail Wides

Purim approaches, and like every other holiday we've observed during the pandemic, it will look and be different. Yet, just as with our other Jewish and secular holidays, the meaningful rituals and traditions we can still observe give us continuity, comfort, and community. With Purim, that includes retelling the story of Purim through a reading of the M'gillahm'gillahמְגִלָּה"Scroll;" One of the five m'gillot (plural) in the Bible: Esther, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentation and Ecclesiastes. , eating hamantaschen, singing songs, and of course, costumes. Many Jewish communities will still be celebrating Purim; at our congregation, you can order hamantaschen online, and the temple is offering a cornucopia of Purim events for all ages.

It’s still possible to dress up and celebrate Purim this year, especially if you're attending a Zoom party. And speaking of costumes, Purim is an excellent time to think about approaching costume selection with sensitivity and awareness. We’ve all been there, right? How does one decide if a costume is appropriate? What makes a costume racist or veer into cultural appropriation?

There is guidance we can take from Ohio University's “Cultures not Costumes” Halloween campaign, which urged “mindfulness in veering away from choosing costumes that marginalize or stereotype ethnicities.” Keep in mind that you can learn about and respect a culture without ‘trying it on’ and still have an amazing time at Purim.

The 2019 article “How Not to be Totally Racist This Purim” also gives us a way to check ourselves before choosing a costume for ourselves or our children. Here are a few things to consider in creating a fun and interesting costume.

  1. Be your best creative self. There is a world of costumes beyond the characters of the story of Purim: an old-fashioned iPod, a peacock, a jellyfish to name a few.
  2. No blackface, yellowface, brownface, or redface. Just steer away from painted faces altogether.
  3. Disability is not a costume. Be a swashbuckling pirate without adding an eye patch or hook.
  4. Reflect culture without mocking or poking fun. To be safe, reflect your own culture or an imaginary one.
  5. Avoid costumes that make assumptions about people and reinforce stereotypes. Our community is diverse, and even if it weren’t, it behooves us to choose costumes that reflect our values of kavod (respect), chesedChesedKindness , and tikkun olamtikkun olamתִּקּוּן עוֹלָם"Repair of the world;" Jewish concept that it is our responsibility to partner with God to improve the world. A mystical concept of restoration of God's holiest Name to itself and the repair of a shattered world. Often refers to social action and social justice. .

So, dress up, have fun, and bonus: You’ll be raising awareness about avoiding cultural appropriation, stereotypes, and racism when choosing a Purim costume. Chag Purim sameach!

For fun, appropriate, and easy-to-assemble costume ideas, see "Quick Costume Ideas for Purim." Visit for more resources for celebrating the holiday. 

Related Posts

Trans Day of Visibility is Just a Start

March 29, 2022
For a community relentlessly targeted by hateful legislation, this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility (celebrated on March 31) holds a heightened sense of urgency. I am ashamed to say that this day wasn’t even on my radar until I had a personal stake in it, but it now holds a special place of significance in my family.

Affirming and Loving Transgender, Non-Binary, and Gender Expansive Grandchildren

March 22, 2022
The Union for Reform Judaism, Jewish Grandparents Network, and Keshet are collaborating on a series of conversations to support grandparents and other loving adults who are interested in providing affirming spaces for gender expansive, non-binary, and transgender young people. These sessions provide grandparents with foundational knowledge, shared language, and inclusive practices.

How the Legacy of Rosa Parks Echoes in the Present

February 4, 2022
Today, the anniversary of Rosa Parks’s birthday, is the ideal time to revisit her life and legacy for the inspiration and wisdom they provide. Many Americans remember Rosa Parks as the tired seamstress who refused to move to the back of a bus, but Rosa Parks is much more than that story: though she did not identify as Jewish, her life reflected a commitment that we might identify as tikkun olam – repairing what is broken in our world. Here are three key insights from Rosa Parks’ life we can bear in mind as Black History Month begins.