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The time has come to celebrate. The house will be cleaned and bedecked in crescents and lights, and the wafting scents of sweets will entice passers-by. Laughter will echo through the house as a gaggle of family and friends meet to mark the joyous occasion: it’s Eid Al Fitr, the festival synonymous with sweets.

As we head into the long weekend, we asked expats in the UAE how they intend to mark the festival. Here’s what they had to say.

Jordanian mum of two Mayssam Mahmoud calls Eid her family’s favourite occasion. “We usually gather with family members a day before to bake mamoul (stuffed cookies) and some other Eid cookies. On Eid morning, we wake up very early for Eid prayers and after that we start visiting family and friends, as most of them are living in Dubai,” she says.

At Pakistani expat Wafa Khan’s house, meanwhile, celebrations begin on the eve of Eid. She says: “On the eve of Eid no one sleeps in our house. The excitement is all about going for Eid prayers early morning. The night prior, we spend in gratitude and cooking seviyan (traditional Pakistani vermicelli with nuts). Boys go in for a haircut or a shave, the new salwar kameezes are ironed, and after Fajr prayer, everyone starts getting ready. Takbeer of Eid is played in the background and it brings so much joy to our hearts.

“In the evening, our families come together and children are dressed up in traditional garb ready to receive their Eidi, money given by elders to young ones on Eid.”

Perfect time to treasure family ties

Taaliah Malik, a Pakistani actress based in Dubai, says Eid is a time for celebration, family and loads of traditional food for breakfast. “The men of the house get ready first and leave for prayers. Meanwhile, my mum starts preparing a traditional Pakistani sweet dish with vermicelli — sheer khurma, while my sister and I dress up for Eid.

“When my father and brothers return after prayers, we wish each other ‘Eid Mubarak’ and no matter how old I get, I still get my Eidi money from everyone in the house. We then have sheer khurma, kebabs and all kinds of traditional breakfast dishes while listening to stories of the past. The house is filled with joy and laughter,” she says.

Time for compassion and generosity

Fabiah Khalid, who hails from India, speaks of an Eid that melds both Indian and Emirati culture.

“My boys have imbibed some of the Emirati culture in Dubai. They see donation boxes in grocery stores and ask us to make donations. They prepare dry ration boxes to distribute to the helpers and security guards in our vicinity. It makes my heart swell when I see them run and hand boxes to them. There’s the notion of doing good deeds during the month of Ramadan which my kids learnt at school and try their best to follow it,” she says.

Khalid talks of getting the kids involved in decorating their house. “When it’s time for Eid, my children are enthusiastic about decorating the house with crescent moons, stars and Eid Mubarak banners. We have an advent calendar for Eid like Christmas and the kids love it. New clothes and Eidi gifts are bought, the house is made ready to welcome friends and family,” she adds.

Khalid mentions how she’s always amazed by the number of people from varied backgrounds and cultures she sees at the mosque, all dressed in their national outfits. “Once the prayers are done, people who we don’t even know wish us Eid Mubarak with such gusto, you tend to not miss the Indian Eid. Some families bring treats to share with everyone — one feels like a part of a big family here. We also prepare little goody bags to share with other children at the mosque,” she says.

“Once we’re back home, our table looks very similar to the one set up by my mum back home. We have seviyan, dahi vada, kebab and biryani alongside qatayef and kunafeh. It’s like having a mix of Indian and Emirati treats on our table. Over the years, we’ve made some friends who come and visit us on Eid. We share food and happy memories as we gear up to get back to our normal lives,” she adds.

Roula Hajjar, a Syrian expat who has been in Dubai for over 10 years, visits family during the break, but says she still has a plan if she’s not travelling.

“I usually buy something new for my kids, and in the morning of Eid I give it to them along with money. We then have lunch at a nice restaurant with a few friends since my family is not in Dubai. I also take the kids to a toy store to buy a new toy.”

Similarly, Dutch expat Seyma Soykan Ozkuzugudenli says when she’s not travelling for Eid, her family enjoys a nice breakfast with friends who are also in the country.

In the UAE, many expats live solitary lives, with their families residing in their home countries. This, however doesn’t mean the celebration is lacking. Aashim Kadayikkal, an Indian expat who has been living with friends in Dubai for almost six years, says he and his crew go to the mosque in the morning and then get together to cook, eat and then go out together for a show or movie.

For Indian expat Zehra Merchant, moving to Dubai meant changing up traditions: “Some traditions are still the same like the Eid prayers, preparing the Eid special, sheer khurma and the evergreen biryani. Kids enjoy the Eid evening outings as they dress up for the day. It’s different from what I have experienced back home, but it’s still special,” she says.

Creating own traditions and rituals

As with most things, Covid-19 has also played a part in how celebrations are now held. Expat Alison Watt, for instance, says her family began a new practice at the height of the pandemic, in 2020.

“As we stayed home, my daughter and I decided to make afternoon tea. We did it over the following Eids as we were staying home and it’s now become a tradition. I have an Irish friend married to an Emirati, who also does that and has done for years. My daughter makes egg mayonnaise sandwiches and I make scones and together we make little cakes,” she says.

In the UAE, you can’t help but be swept up in celebration. Indian expat Suchita Gupta Sethi, who grew up in the Middle East and has been in Dubai for the last 10 years, says, “Even though I am not a Muslim, I have been lucky to be surrounded by the most wonderful and loving Muslim friends who always made us feel included in their celebrations. Whether it is Eidi, or the Eid lunch, or the dressing up and taking pictures, we felt as involved in the festivities as we would for Diwali. It is definitely one holiday we look forward to and make it a point not to travel so that we can celebrate it in full swing in Dubai with our loved ones.”

And Zara Antoinette Kennedy, an Indian who has been in Dubai for eight months, says: “I cannot wait to help myself to the biryani from Gazebo restaurant and share in the company of my dearest friends who celebrate this festival.”

Pakistani expat Fatima Mohammed, who was born and raised in Dubai, says: “My father was one of the first members of his family to move to Dubai a few decades ago, and since then he has been throwing Eid Dawats (feasts) for the entire family. Our cousins, aunts, uncles and friends all gather to celebrate togetherness and blessings.”

Food is a big part of the celebrations, and many expats have a list of favourites. Pakistani expat, Umair Ahmed, for example, loves his mum’s shahi tukra, a decadent dessert cooked with cream, bread, ghee, gold leaf, saffron and nuts.

“What’s more, Eid Al Fitr could have never been completed without Eidi, a small celebration for kids where they receive gifts or cash from the elder family members and friends. However, I do recall how we got Eidi for a few years even after getting married,” he laughs.

But just as important as food, if not more, is laughter, friendship, family and a sense of goodwill. Homes will sparkle with cheer: it’s Eid Al Fitr. ■