Eid Al Fitr (the festival of fast-breaking) is a three-day long holiday at the end of Ramadan. A time to celebrate with family and friends, for many it is the light at the end of the tunnel after a long and difficult month of fasting and abstaining.
Unlike for other holidays that are set in stone or calendar, there's a cool way to spot when the festive celebration has arrived: Muslims strain their eyes for a sighting of the full moon. If it's there, so is Eid!
Eid is a time to celebrate, relax, bond with family, shop till you drop and eat, eat, eat! But hey, don't confuse this occasion with the other Eid – yes Muslims have two festivals, the lucky revellers - and the next one is called Eid Al Adha, (the one that’s less fun for the sacrificial sheep, who get slaughtered in scores on behalf of each Muslim family).
Although most people won't admit it, they have a love-hate relationship going on with this holiday...
People love to hate Eid, as although they get some time off to indulge in traditional yummy Eid sweets and fun outings, they still have to commit to certain traditions which many find daunting. The men especially, but all bar the elders in the family must make the dutiful rounds of all the relatives, bearing gifts and pleasant chit-chat as they pick up an obligatory traditional cookie (ma’moul or Kaek). Given the size of families in the Arab world, this can take all three days on its own!
Confused? Don't be! Let's go through the different traditions of Eid which have people jumping for joy or begging to go home.
As Eid approaches, fasters (weary from the holy month) begin to frantically clean their homes so that they're spotless when the first visitors arrive. They then begin to stock up on Eid sweets and bake their own traditional treats called Kaek Al Eid. Those come in three flavors: pistachios, walnuts and dates. Eid’s not Eid without a Kaek (or five)!
Unlike Western holidays where your presents can be anything, there are some traditional gifts given at Eid. Most often, new clothes and Eid outfits are given as gifts to kids and adults, making Eid the most fashionable event of the year.
More importantly than giving clothes is zakat - aka, giving to the poor and needy. One of the five pillars of Islam, zakat is a tradition of alms-giving and charitable donations to those less fortunate. Zakat can be given in the form of food, clothes or money but it’s the spirit of giving that is most important. It’s a chance for Muslims to try and eliminate economic inequality and ensure that the needy are able to celebrate Eid too.
The first day of Eid is welcomed in by crowds of Muslims gathering at mosques so they can perform their early morning prayers. There’s a buzz in the air and everyone is in high spirits.
It is then followed by family and friends visiting each other to give their greetings for the holiday, which follows a pretty standard formula: children play, adults make sensible small talk for five minutes (which quickly gives way to awkward silences and a lot of wall-staring), followed by the family making a getaway to their next social engagement. Sounds like a pretty world-standard family reunion to us!
Conversation might be thin on the ground, but food definitely isn’t during Eid. Each home and family member you visit will offer you traditional Eid coffee and sweets...by the time you’ve done the family rounds, you’ll be a good 10kg heavier! Considered rude and unacceptable to say “No thanks, I’m full”, you’re going to have to suck it up and stuff your face (or purse) with enough Eid sweets to curb world hunger.
Over-eating may just be the most daunting part of Eid - perhaps stuffing your face with a Kaek is the best way to get out of talking about your love life with your great-aunt, but the mixture of distant relatives and an overload of snacks is a potent one.
However, one of the best parts of Eid is that it brings families and friends together who may not have time to connect fully during the rest of the year.
Children it must be said, get the best deal during Eid. They by-pass all the small talk and with no fears of an expanding waistband, stuffing their faces comes naturally. They are also showered with gifts and money from their elders - lucky buggers! Oh to be a kid again....
Alongside your personal festivities during Eid, some countries really get behind the celebration. Every year, the UAE hosts lavish events with celebrity guests, fun fairs and all the Eid fancies you could hope for. For example, Abu Dhabi this year is hosting “Eid Fest”.
One thing’s for certain - regardless of how tired you are at the end of the day after visiting all your relatives and how bad your food-coma is - there is never a shortage of things to do during Eid when you are off work or school!