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In a world where the only constant is tumultuous change, celebrating festivals can remind us of a simpler past, devoid of the frenetic pace that characterises the present. They are also moments in time to covet those family heirlooms — be it a special prayer, or that secret dessert recipe.

This weekend, Muslims around the world observe Eid Al Adha. For families, it’s a time to pray and introspect, and also celebrate with time-honoured traditions.

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Friends, family, food

Mohammad Mustafa Al Awady’s family prepares the flavour-packed fatteh during Eid gatherings Image Credit: Supplied

In Egypt, Eid Al Adha revolves around family gatherings that are so large that no house can accommodate the near countless family members. “If you want a gathering of all the uncles, aunties, grandparents, nieces, and nephews, it has to be in an open space, like a park,” says Mohammad Mustafa Al Awady with a smile. The Ajman resident misses the rare sight of butcheries opening at 5am in Egypt to accommodate large crowds, and fixing wires through neighbours’ balconies to hang decorations.

Their celebrations in the UAE are comparatively muted. “We meet at my sister’s place early in the morning and then proceed to the mosque. After prayers, we gift money, called eidiya, and new clothes to the kids,” he says. The family then congregates at one of their houses for breakfast and lunch, which includes fatteh, where tender, flavourful meat is placed on a fluffy bed of rice that’s drizzled with a luscious tomato sauce whose star ingredients are garlic and vinegar. It also includes fried or toasted bread. The classic dish is served alongside a delicious dollop of chit-chat. Later, they return home to either rest or catch up with extended family members who are scattered across the world.

“I am lucky that I have family here and that we are able to gather and attend prayers on Eid,” he says.

Embracing time-honoured customs

Judhi Prasetyo’s family visits The Greens community during Eid to celebrate the occasion with old friends and neighbours Image Credit: Supplied

When Judhi Prasetyo moved to Dubai with his family in 2008, they lived in The Greens area. The neighbourhood mosque emerged as a place of solace – Prasetyo visited it often with his son and they would play football with the imam’s son and other kids. The family has moved out since, but every Eid Al Adha they return to this little patch of land, which feels like home, to visit the mosque and the imam, and have a small reunion with old friends and neighbours.

In Indonesia, Eid Al Adha celebrations are more low-key than Eid Al Fitr. “In Dubai, we start our day by going to the mosque at around 7am,” says Prasetyo. “Although not compulsory, we are encouraged to fast the day before Eid Al Adha until we return from the mosque the next morning.”

Evenings are reserved for meet-ups with friends-like-family and they indulge in the popular Indonesian tradition of cooking sate kambing, or lamb satay. As a child, Prasetyo’s wife Ami Ratna Yuami remembers being enveloped in the aroma of the meat, glazed with peanut sauce or Indonesian sweet soy sauce, grilling on the barbecue. The satay is served with rice cakes called lontong, the vegetable-coconut gravy lontong sayur and the Indonesian lamb curry, gulai kambing. In Dubai, the family also prepares tumpeng, a combination of yellow rice, meat, and chicken. “It is not commonly served on Eid in Indonesia, but we do it here because it reminds us of home,” says Prasetyo.

Passing down traditions

Bouchra Rebiai is gearing up to celebrate her first Eid in the UAE Image Credit: Supplied

Bouchra Rebiai is busy preparing for her first Eid Al Adha in the UAE. “I was raised in Jeddah and we had this tradition where most people with kids would prepare a basket of sweets and candies. Last year, my daughter had a lot of fun taking a basket around distributing sweets; so we are planning to do that this year,” says Rebiai, who was born to an Algerian father and a Sri Lankan mother. Growing up, her grandmother in Algeria used to send sweets like the almond-rich makrout el louz, Algerian baklava and ghribia.

She recalls her mother didn’t necessarily stick to Sri Lankan traditions but she would often prepare Sri Lankan biryani during festivities. “What really makes the biryani different is curry leaves and rampe leaves,” she explains. “The side dishes were slightly different too – for Eid, we always had cashew curry.”

The last five years, she celebrated Eid Al Adha with her in-laws at their sprawling villa in Algeria.

This year celebrations will look different, but no less exciting. Besides attending the morning prayer, watching the fireworks and having friends over, Rebiai hopes to continue the ritual of applying henna on her palms with her daughter, although the six-year-old has shown some resistance to the idea. “But she likes it when she sees me applying it,” she smiles.

Sweet nostalgia

Ahmad Al Tabbaa and his wife prefer travelling back home to celebrate Eid with their extended family Image Credit: Supplied

Ahmad Al Tabbaa jokes that the Eid tradition he misses the most is the eidiya, the custom of elders gifting money to children. “I need someone to give me some money,” he laughs.

Back in Syria, the women would gather together the day before Eid Al Adha to prepare sweets like maamoul, which is stuffed with dates or pistachios. The family also fasts together and goes shopping for new clothes.

“On the morning of Eid Al Adha, both men and women go to the mosque for prayers,” says Al Tabbaa. Later the entire family – about 30 or 40 family members – sits down to indulge in a hearty meal of kibbeh and fatteh, mahshi, and kibdah that’s made using fresh meat from the slaughter earlier that morning.

“Later, when you visit your relatives, they always welcome you with sweets like mabroma, kunafa and halawet el jibn. Then we take the kids to the amusement park, play with firecrackers or go for a barbeque,” he adds.

Al Tabbaa and his family have tried to keep the practice of spending Eid Al Adha with family alive by traveling to either Syria or Kuwait, where his wife’s family is based, although it’s not possible to do so every year.

In Dubai, they begin their day by going to the mosque and later head to the mall or the park.

“We don’t have many relatives here, so we visit our friends or meet them at the coffee shop,” he adds.

Al Tabbaa misses the warmth of those large family gatherings back home. “You eat breakfast and lunch together, you play some games, chat, watch movies, dance, go out to restaurants together. We miss all that.”

Treasured memories

Shefali Munshi’s (second from left) family prepares various dishes during their Eid gatherings Image Credit: Supplied

Shefali Munshi’s memories of Eid Al Adha are intertwined with those of her father. She used to wake up to the sight of him hovering over the kitchen stove making his irreplicable sevai, a popular milk-based sweet dish. “He is no more now, but everyone talks about his recipe even today.” The secret, she reveals, lies in simmering it for four to five hours on a low flame. Her parents hail from the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, and as the daughter of a diplomat she grew up in different parts of the world. She moved to the UAE 25 years ago and has called Dubai home ever since. Her mother lives with her, while her brother and several other close family members also reside in the city.

Festivities are spread across three days, starting with lunch at her uncle’s home. Mehndi is applied on the women’s palms in advance, and shopping trips are undertaken. “We decorate our homes, dress up, and ensure that we come together in spite of conflicting schedules,” she says. Family members display their culinary expertise through their signature dishes like sevai, biryani, shami kebab, and parathas, and they enjoy a delicious spread of specials like dahi phulki and khate masale ka gosht. “There is music, light-hearted conversations reminiscing about family members and making video calls together. And later, when gifts and money are exchanged there is that smile or gleam in the eye. It’s just a nice tradition that has been carried on,” she adds.