Eid Mubarak! How your Eid may differ from the Eid of times before...
With Ramadan winding to a close and with the songs 'Wala Lessa Badry Ya Ramadan' (It's Still Early, Ramadan) 'Ya Leilet El-Eid', and Safaa Aboul Seoud's famous 'Ahlan Bel Eid' (Welcome Eid) are playing on the streets, television and in markets, we celebrate the last days of Ramadan and welcome the Eid festivities.
While some of the Ramadan and Eid traditions and customs were carried from generation to another and are still seen in the different parts of the Muslim world, including the big Ramadan lanterns and the decorations for both Ramadan and Eid, there are some things that are less common now or have been lost in the busy fast-pace life we now experience everyday. What was important to one generation may now have disappeared with the next one.
A Royal Eid
In Egypt, for Omar Shaaban, the owner of a small frames shop tucked in one of the small streets of El-Bostan Street in Downtown Cairo, who just turned 80 this year, he witnessed Eid under all the different rulers starting from King Farouk up until President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi this year.
Shaaban says that the main thing that has changed from when he was young is that life was much simpler.
“Although things were much simpler, the preparations that marked the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid were more festive and live,” says Shaaban. There were a lot more decorations in the streets and more festivities, but everything was simple; all people lived in harmony happily back then.
“We all lived together in one building Muslims, Christians and Jews and people of all religions and all nationalities, but now people are always labelling and classifying others, this is Sunni, this is Shia, this is Christian, instead of just living in harmony,” says Shaaban.
Shaaban recalls that kids were always on the streets playing, more families taking their kids out to the parks and the Giza Zoo and also more rides in carriages around Cairo streets. There was also the 'Luck' man, where kids and even older people used to pay him to find out what their luck was.
“One would just get a note, one would get a small symbolic gift, and it varied from one man to another and one neighbourhood to another, and it is something that lasted for some time but as we grew older and older it disappeared or became less common now,” says Shaaban.
“Downtown Cairo was very festive during Eid at the time of Farouk and he used to ride his car in the streets of Cairo and there was always love between people, and the quality of things were richer, and Haty El-Geish used to make falafel in Eid with almonds,” says Shaaban.
Shaaban says families were very generous with the food. Neighbours were always exchanging food in Ramadan and in Eid as a way of showing love to one another, but now he says he feels that whoever has a loaf a bread hides it from others now.
“When I was young, we used to celebrate the eve of Eid until the next morning, and the days of Eid were all filled with fun and festivities,” says Shaaban. “Things were a lot more simple back then, but also life was easier at the time, while now, the congestion in Cairo kills anything and any hopes.”
From Hand-Made To Ready-Made
Jumping to another generation, Soliman Mahmoud, a tour guide in his late 40s, says both Ramadan and Eid were different back when he was young.
As for Ramadan, he says the Meseharaty (who calls names of the people in the street) was very popular back then. “He almost knew the names of every single person on the street and passed by every night to call them to wake up and have their last meal before they start fasting,” says Mahmoud.
Mahmoud also says that back then the konafa guy used to do his konafa in the very traditional hand-made way and people used to go and watch him while he was doing it as one of the traditions of Ramadan. “But now, machines were introduced at the konafa stores, making the hand-made konafa tradition less common now,” he says.
He says there were also the baladi yoghurt pots for sohour meal as well that were popular before the plastic yoghurt cups were introduced or were common, but they disappeared gradually.
As for Eid, Mahmoud says the Eid cookies were a huge deal at homes back then. “The mother would spend the days before Eid preparing the dough and all her ingredients for the first day of Eid,” says Mahmoud.
He says children used to enjoy every bit of it as they played with the dough and made shapes with it while their mother would prepare her very unique secret recipe that she probably inherited from her mother or grandmother. Also, the cookie trays were huge and women would send their daughters to the neighbourhood bakery to put the trays in their oven there and bring them back when they are ready.
“From the preparations, to putting everything together to sending daughters with trays and back again to then decorating the cookies, it was all a festivity in itself,” says Mahmoud. “But, look now at all the queues outside El Abd here and all the dessert shops; people are now buying ready made cookies which is something that was rare back then.”
Eid and All That Jazz
Going to a third generation, Heba Mostafa, a housewife in her mid 20s, says what is different is that people appreciated little things back then.
“For any kid my age, the buying of new clothes for Eid when we were young was the biggest achievement and the most exciting event of the month,” she says. “It was something we used to wait for and we used to go out on the eve of Eid and buy new dresses and new shoes and hairbands to wear the next morning to the Eid prayers and then go visit our relatives.”
Heba says families back then cared more about paying visits to relatives and taking time to go to one's city of origin as part of the Eid traditions before making plans to travel for the vacation.
“When I was young, we used to pray Eid and then go with my father and grandfather to visit relatives and sometimes go back and spend the Eid somewhere different or then make plans to go somewhere else on vacation,” she says. “But now, people just make plans to flee the city as soon as possible and there are less family visits as it was before.”
Heba also says the unique Eid songs that she grew up to were very common back then, but children growing up now don't get the same quality songs and don't get the same atmosphere. For me, what is really different is that little things used to make us happy and when our parents used to take us anywhere we used to appreciate it and Eid seemed a happier occasion, but now it just marks the end of fasting and that's it,” she says. “There's something that was there back then that is really missing from Eid nowadays even when there is nothing political going on; it had a unique taste and was very festive.”
As Eid changes through time, make yours count. Eid Mubarak to all!