Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan , when families gather to pray over the graves of departed loved ones and call on friends and relatives. In addition to the religious duties, tradition dictates that families buy new clothes for children and give them cash gifts known as eidaat.
Increasingly, certain brands or stores are also seeking to cash in on Eid by offering special sales or gift ideas. Gift giving has become particularly popular in the Gulf, where many luxury goods companies have already established a strong presence by catering to wealthy Arab consumers, and also among some Muslims living abroad in Western countries.
In Lebanon, gift giving is becoming increasingly common , although most families still give cash. But as the economy worsens and spending power declines, some are cutting back on the traditional visits rather than face the embarrassment of being unable to bring an appropriate offering.
“All kinds of occasions are getting more and more commercial, whether it’s Eid or Easter, Christmas or Valentine’s Day,” Daher says. “It’s a marketing thing and it has nothing to do with Eid. The occasion is what we have to focus on. ... You should not miss the opportunity to visit someone because of this financial aspect.”
Daher is a traditionalist when it comes to Eid. According to custom, she says, the children in the family should greet their older relatives first thing in the morning. Grandparents and often parents then distribute Eid money to each of the children under the age of 14, although the exact cutoff age can differ by a year or two. Unmarried aunts and uncles are also expected to give to their nieces and nephews. In some families, married aunts and uncles do as well.
Daher says she prefers money to gifts, although “a gift is always welcome.” She explains: “The nice thing about giving money is that everyone in the family receives the same amount. It’s not nice when one person is getting an i-Pod and another a T-shirt. That’s for birthdays.
“How we greet people, how we greet the older people in our lives and each other is more important than the gifts,” she added.
Those who do choose to give gifts may want to select an item that does not detract from the religious significance of the holiday.
Many jewelry stores carry necklaces and bracelets with the word “Allah” or certain Suras inscribed in gold or silver. Religious bookstores often sell books for children introducing them to the main tenets of faith in a colorful, kid-friendly way. Cosmetics company Inglot, which operates a store on Hamra street, made a splash among pious fashionistas with its line of halal nail polish.
When making house calls, it is traditional to bring sweets, although Daher emphasizes that this is done as a guest in someone’s home, not for Eid. Visitors may want to also bring a small gift or candies for the children of the house, although they should not spend more than LL20,000 and this is optional, she adds.
The importance of gratitude cannot be overemphasized, Daher says, and parents should make sure their children say thank you for any gifts, money or sweets they receive.
“In Arab countries it is not very often that we make our kids write a thank you note, but we always have to say thank you,” she stresses. “They should not say, ‘No, that’s all I get? It’s not enough.’”
According to Daher, non-Muslim in-laws of interfaith marriages are also expected to call or visit, in the same way that Muslim in-laws of a Christian family should call or visit on Christmas.
It is also appropriate on Eid to express thanks to doormen, domestic help, and anyone else who works for the family or provides services. Daher suggests writing a personal note of thanks and sealing it in an envelope with cash.
Those who find themselves in a comfortable financial position can also reach out to a less fortunate family by sending them a note with money, which should be given to the head of the household.
Especially in Lebanon, where most families have loved ones abroad, it is also traditional to call on Eid. Although international calls can be expensive, Daher says a phone call is strongly preferable to an email, pointing out that services like Skype can make it cheaper.
If someone absolutely does not have the means to call, he or she can send a text message.
“Don’t forget to SMS in the person’s name, and put your name at the end,” Daher warns. “Don’t send bulk texts.”
Email should be an absolute last resort, she says.
Above all, says Daher, no one should avoid visiting friends and family due to financial constraints, adding that paying respect is more important than gifts or money. “No gift is small if it is given with love.”
By Meris Lutz