Beauty, Community and Sweetness: Celebrating Eid ul-Fitr
Like Muslims throughout time and the world over, my young family and I look forward to the month of Ramadan and its celebratory finale of Eid ul-Fitr all year. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Our anticipation for it is intimately linked to the waxing and waning of the moon. In our own home, we seek out the delicate crescent every 29 days or so. Then start counting the ‘moons’ till Ramadan from the very beginning of the Islamic year. It is an anchor from which we can both go forth from and return to season after season.
So it was somewhat jarring when, a few short weeks ago, instead of sitting in my cosy home, with twinkly lights, flowers, cake and special songs to welcome this longed for month, I was standing in the basement of a very busy hospital. As I stared down at the battered linoleum, waiting for my mother’s nurse to give me an update, I thought ‘well, at least it’s finally Ramadan’ and felt the same cool relief flood through me as I do every year.
Independent as it is of the solar calendar, the actual ‘date’ of Ramadan moves slowly throughout the seasons of nature. Bringing with them their own treasures. The snow and short days of a winter Ramadan leaves more space for child friendly early evening gatherings and increased devotions. Whereas the heat and dryness of a summer Ramadan brings with it a particular type of fortitude and focus.
But the Ramadans of autumn and spring, for me, are always the sweetest. Where we live, in a temperate climate in the northern hemisphere, these ‘transitional’ seasons dovetail with the enormous spiritual healing and the spiritual renewal I so cherish in this month.
In much the same way, Ramadan also moves with us throughout the seasons of our lives. Whether as a child, young adult, university student, working professional, new mother, carer and beyond, I’ve been blessed with countless Ramadans throughout which to create simple traditions and beautify the rituals of this month. But that doesn’t mean it is always easy.
Two of the primary core principles of Ramadan are fortitude and forbearance. With adult Muslims obligated to fast from sunrise until sundown if they are able. In addition to this the month is generally dedicated to both solitary reflection, community service and charitable acts. All things that take intentionality, effort, dedication and at least 30 days of consistency, with the hopes of seeding a deep and effective centering of our true purpose.
And after those 30 days, some comfortable, some difficult, some kind, some challenging, some joyful and some tearful, we reach the end of our endeavours with a celebration like no other: Eid ul-Fitr, The Feast After The Fast.
For my family and I, there is no more grounded, whole bodied and encompassing illustration of ease after hardship than the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr. There is a giddy exuberance, a sense of accomplishment and a deep feeling of gratitude that we welcomed the visitor that is Ramadan. Honoured it in the best ways we know how and bid it goodbye with grace and love.
This year, after a transatlantic move back to my hometown, we start a new jobs and schools while at the same time learning how to care for elderly parents. Our celebrations may look a little different than before but that doesn’t make them any less jubilant. In fact, we’re learning together that the things that nurture us best are the ones we are looking forward to the most. And we are forever grateful for the privilege, security and safety to celebrate the way we do.
God is beautiful and loves beauty – Prophet Muhammad
A few days before Eid, we will wander through our small spring garden, our nearby park and the local garden centre. We will collect branches and blooms and interesting looking rocks and leaves with which to decorate our home. We will add to these a homemade banner and paper stars. Until eventually our four year old will declare the house ‘beautiful enough for Eid!’, and it will be.
The evening before, we’ll lay out our best clothes. They won’t necessarily be new but they will be our finest. Some will have sparkles, some will have embroidery, some will seem plain but hold dear memories.
I will mix up some earthy smelling henna powder with a special black tea brewed with cloves. Just like my elders taught me, I will stir it together slowly. Then let the mixture sit for a few hours. My twelve year old will remark that the house smells like Eid, and it will. Later in the night we will use the henna to make designs on each other’s palms, let it dry and sleep carefully with our hands turned upwards. In the morning, we will rub it off to reveal the rust coloured dye left beneath.
The morning of Eid, we will awake just before the sun for our predawn prayers. We will perform them together as a family. In years past, we would have gotten ourselves ready and headed straight out for the main Eid gathering. Coming together with other celebrating Muslims in parks, rec halls or larger mosques for the main congregational Eid prayer and sermon.
As an annual gathering, this coming together serves as both an inspiration. It’s a reunion and a visual reminder that the rhythms we carried out through our special month were shared with countless others here and around the world. The celebration is for all of us. In recognition of that, we would rise at the end of it and give each other a special kind of triple hug. A hug which we all know is only for Eid.
In the afternoon, we will make local and international calls and shout down handsets and smile into screens ‘Eid Mubarak! Eid Mubarak! How are you celebrating? Show us your henna!’. We will share snapshots of our clothes and our gifts. We will exchange prayers for a blessed year until next Ramadan, until the next Eid when. Perhaps, we may even be able to celebrate in the same place.
Sweetness can be either a taste or a feeling and on Eid, it is both.
Regardless of what age a person is or where in the world they are celebrating, the Eid day is punctuated with fragrant, sugary puddings and confections of all types. For us, I will start by digging deep into my childhood memories. Then I prepare a delicate milky saffron and cardamom vermicelli pudding. This will stand in for breakfast and sustain us through the morning.
At prayers, sweets and candies and baked goods from around the world will be shared. It will be given to the younger celebrants who, for a day, will not have their sugar consumption so strictly scrutinised. Back home in the afternoon, there will be cold crisp fruit platters. Watermelon, mangos and berries all sitting side by side just as we sat side by side with our fellow brothers and sisters in faith a few hours earlier at Eid prayers. My eight-year old will note that maybe the fruit would taste ‘even better’ with cream, and it will.
The evening will bring the uncovering of more complex sweet dishes and the welcoming of guests. Some will bring desserts of their own. We will eat them together and ask them to take different desserts home with them. ‘For the second day of Eid’ we will say when they protest. Eid is, after all, officially a three day festival.
When the last of the conversations grow quiet, with our youngest children growing heavier in our laps, we will stare warmly into the middle distance and there will be a kind of collective sigh as we turn over the events of the day in our minds. The hush will let us remember those who have passed on. We will let ourselves feel the emptiness. Even as the elderly amongst us will wonder if this Eid may also be their last. Even as we feel grateful to have had another year with those still here. Another year to meet the challenge of Ramadan and another year to reap its rewards. Someone will break the silence by recalling a joke from earlier and some of us will chuckle. ‘It was a good Eid’ we will say. And it will be.