After the solemnity and inner reflection that accompanies the holy month of Ramadan, Eid Al Fitr is a time of joy and celebration for Muslims all over the world.
Eid is all about knocking on the doors of friends and family to call out holiday greetings, showering gifts on over-excited youngsters – and of course tucking into some delicious traditional fare. It’s special because it brings families and friends together who perhaps haven’t had time to fully connect during the rest of the year.
As with all religious festivals, the rituals of Eid Al Fitr vary from country to country. Many families have their unique traditions for Eid. With the UAE being such a multicultural society, it’s a great opportunity to get a flavour of how different people choose to celebrate the festival – and perhaps, sample dishes that are otherwise totally off your radar.
Dubai resident Tasneem Rajkotwala is from the traditional Indian Bohra community. Their celebrations have a distinctly aromatic start. “As per our tradition, on the night before Eid a big pot of milk is boiled with dried dates, cardamom and pistachios and reduced to a thick consistency, which when pinched can form a shape,” she says. “We stuff the dates with this milk mixture, which is the first thing we eat before Eid prayers, and kiss the hands of elders around us. We also offer eidi gifts to children to wish them Eid Mubarak.
“Post prayers, we make phone calls to our families back home. We eat sheer kurma, a rich vermicelli pudding made with milk, nuts, dates and sugar, for breakfast, and lunch is always a grand affair — even if it’s just the three of us here. While our families are mainly in India, we still try to make every Eid memorable for our little one.”
Children take centre stage
Another Dubai resident, Palestinian Khalid Hidmi, says it is their tradition for kids to take the lead on Eid festivities.
“After completing Eid prayer at a nearby mosque in the early morning of the first day of Eid, our children join others in distributing sweets and candy to worshippers to signal the start of the celebrations,” he says.
“Afterwards, we enjoy a lovely family breakfast. We treat ourselves to manakeesh, bought from a local bakery, before we head back home and change into our Eid clothing, which are always new and bought especially for the occasion. Then begins a grand tour of family and friends. This usually starts with the closest members of the family such as parents, followed by brothers, sisters, uncles and cousins.”
For Maha Waseem, a Pakistani expat born and raised in Sharjah, children are also at the centre of celebrations for Eid. She says dressing well for the occasion is important. “Kids come dressed in their best clothes and give away candies to celebrate the end of the holy month.”
“Eid for Pakistanis is all about meeting your loved ones, eating lots of food and looking your best. The kids particularly enjoy getting presents and money from the elders, which is why they’re on their best behaviour. There is an undeniable energy and positivity in the air,” she adds.
Another Pakistani expat, Bilal Syed, is lucky enough to spend Eid with his family at a new destination every year, locally and internationally.
“However, we have the unique tradition of eating a particular kind of gravy that uses goat kidneys with herbs and spices combined to create a beautiful spicy dish,” he says. “We also prepare a special type of homemade milk tea that we consume on special occasions.
“The elders give a sum of cash to the younger family members. This way all the young adults and children get some extra cash. It’s a token of appreciation and encouragement for going through Ramadan fasting and developing yourself as a good and charitable human being.”
Although some aspects may vary between nationalities, Eid is a unifying time of year for all Muslims, says Emirati Protocol Manager and Senior Presenter at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) Ahmed Al Jafflah.
Discussing the local UAE traditions, he says, “In the morning of Eid we get up for fajr prayer then return home to shower, put on our best perfume and wear our new clothes and shoes. You will hear the mosque making the Takbeer (prayer) and we head to the mosque for the Eid prayer.
“After visiting the mosque, all our family members meet in one house — ladies in one majlis and men in another. We greet each other and everyone takes a gift, usually fruit, cakes, desserts or sweets. The owner of that house is usually the head of the family and you find four to five generations in one place.
“There will be biryani, harees — a dish of boiled, coarsely ground wheat mixed with meat, or machboos — a rice dish with meat — and lugaimat — soft, sweet doughballs, all provided by the host. We try not to eat much as we have just spent a month of fasting so our stomach cannot take a lot of food.”