If you regularly peruse a Hebrew calendar, you probably know that Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are in the month of Tishrei, Chanukah is in Kislev, Purim is in Adar, Passover is in Nisan, and Shavuot is in Sivan. But you may have also noticed an additional holiday that only shows up during leap years, known as Purim Katan, or “small Purim.”
Noisemakers, masks, and revelry usually mark the Purim holiday, when Haman the Aggagite of Achmaenid Persia tried to kill all the Jews but was hanged instead. However, not much marks Purim Katan, a much lesser-known holiday on the Hebrew calendar. Like Purim, Purim Katan is on the 14th day of Adar, the month that usually overlaps February and March, and it takes the place of Purim during a Hebrew leap year such as this one. An extra month of Adar is added to the calendar and Purim is pushed back to the 14th of Adar II.
The leap year was instituted as part of the calendar in order to adjust the lunisolar Hebrew calendar, which averages 354 days per year, with the solar cycle, which averages 365. If no extra months or days were added, the Passover holiday would eventually fall in the summer instead of the spring, and since the Torah mandates that it be the “spring holiday,” its timing is carefully observed. Because the Hebrew calendar is based on 19-year cycles (as such a cycle ensures that the solar and lunar years are kept nearly equal), leap years are declared seven times per cycle. The calendar is currently calculated according to a set Talmudic method, which has been in use for over a thousand years.
Purim has a host of associated commandments and traditions, such as festive meals, charitable donations to the destitute, and reading of the Megillah, but Purim Katan has no such observances. Instead, it serves to mark the day when Purim would have been, if not for the importance attached to Passover. The Code of Jewish Law, however, does recommend increasing one’s level of joy and festivity on Purim Katan, and recommends that one not fast or deliver eulogies on Purim Katan (Orach Chaim 797:1). The minor holiday is also meant as a reminder to begin preparing for Purim, a month later.
Another type of Purim Katan takes the form of the commemoration of a day on which an individual or Jewish community was saved, usually from perils such as pogroms, wars, or blood libels. The first such communal Purim Katan was instituted in the 11th century by Samuel ibn Naghrillah the Prince, the Jewish vizier and military commander of Granada, after escaping an assassination attempt and leading the Grenadian army to a significant military victory. One of the most famous Purim Katan commemorations was instituted in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1614, when a mob leader named Vincenz Fettmilch who had planned a bloody massacre of the Jewish community was instead executed by the Holy Roman Emperor. The resultant “Purim Vintz” was celebrated for decades. Some Israelis and Jews who were kidnapped by Palestinian and German terrorists in 1974 and rescued in Operation Entebbe have established their own Purim Katan celebrations in commemoration of the day they were saved.
Purim Katan comes around in the calendar only once every few years, and is easily overlooked and overshadowed by other Jewish holidays. However, it does provide the opportunity for personal thanksgiving and preparation for the future. Looking forward to Purim!