The festival of Purim, the most joyous of the Jewish holidays, will be celebrated around the world from sundown Monday to sundown Tuesday.

The feast commemorates the rescue of the Jews by Esther, queen of Persia in the 5th century B.C., who frustrated a plot by chief minister Haman to destroy the Persian Jews.

The word Purim means "lots," referring to the method that Haman intended to use to determine the day on which he would destroy the Jews if they did not bow down to false idols.

As the Book of Esther is read in synagogues on Purim, it is traditional for the people to drown out the name of Haman with noisemakers each time it is mentioned.

Unlike most Jewish holidays, which are solemn, Purim is a time of gaiety. Children dress in Purim costumes, participate in pageants and eat hamantashen, three-cornered pastries with a sweet filling.

Several area synagogues and Jewish organizations are holding special Purim services and activities. They indlude:

Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim, Purim Bazaar and Carnival, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, 1840 University Blvd., Silver Spring.

Congregation Olam Tikvah., Purim carnival, 11 a.m. Sunday, 3800 Glenbrook Rd., Fairfax.

Shaare Tefila Congregation, Purim carnival, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, 11120 Lockwood Dr., Silver Spring.

Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Purim carnival, costume parade, 2 p.m. Sunday, 3830 Seminary Rd., Alexandria.

Howard County Jewish Community School, Purim carnival, white elephant sale, Judaica sale, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Meeting House, 5885 Robert Oliver Pl., Columbia, Md.