The Muslim holiday of Eid is almost upon us (this Sunday by most accounts), marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims abstain from many things including food and drinks from dawn to sunset. Eid is the day we no longer have to fast and we can feast upon whatever the heart desires. It's a day where many Muslims get stomach aches from pigging out. I learned this the hard way a few years ago on my first Eid at home after being away for so long. The next day I fell ill due to eating lots of candy, desserts and nuts during my visits with family and friends.
I realize that many of the Muslim countries and communities around the globe have their own rituals to celebrate the day. The biggest winner on this day of celebration are the kids who extort cash and gifts from the adults in the family, most notably their parents. It's a great day to be a kid as you get to buy pretty much whatever you like and eat all the candy and street food you can find.
I recall not going to sleep on the eve of Eid as the mosques go crazy with their microphone praying and wishing everyone a happy holiday. But that's not why I would not go to sleep, it's just that we are excited for this day to come. We would put our new clothes next to our beds and wake up first thing in the morning. We would break into our parents' bedroom, kiss their hands looking cute and wait for them to give us our cut. This became an issue for many countries, as there would be a shortage of smaller bills and coins because everyone wants change to hand out to people. As kids, the last thing we wanted to hear from our parents was "I will you give you your cash gift once I have change." Instead we would offer to go break the money for them and we would do just that.
I lived part of my childhood in Dubai, and on the day of the Eid we would wear our new clothes, the ones we bought just a few days prior, and then accompany our parents (mostly our dad) to the mosque. Everyone looked so happy and so shiny on this day, and yes, everyone gets a new pair of shoes, too. Aside from getting cash (عيدية) from our parents, in Dubai it was common for strangers to offer you gifts, cash and candy on that day. Some would even walk around the rich neighborhood and knock on doors, asking for something. The streets were decorated, and the shops were well stocked with toys and anything that kids like.
At the mosque, complete strangers would shake your hand and give you hugs; people were joyous. I remember being impressed by the Pakistani and African Muslims who would wear their brightly colored national dresses on this day -- something I still see here in the States, too. Afterward, everyone would head home where they would partake of a feast, mostly containing salty food. In Egypt and many Arab countries they would consume Feisikh (grey mullet left out to putrefy, then salted and left to pickle for several months). I was not a fan, but my mom would never know it.
This is the one day when, as a kid, you get to go through your wish list and pick out something nice for yourself. Some mothers try to reason with their kids and persuade them to let mommy hold that money for them.
I remember in every Arab country boys would buy kites, trucks and swords. But the most popular boy toy was a plastic gun, either water or firecracker. We would organize games where we'd play off against the guys two streets down from our homes. Needless to say, while boys are rolling in the dirt and running around, girls are looking snazzy with those fancy purses and popular dolls. In Dubai, the local politician would have an open house where people would come to meet and greet -- they could also pick up a generous gift on their way out.
Most countries release some inmates on this day to have them be with their families, a nice gesture that most Muslim countries do around the holidays. TV would show the best movies and the best music videos all day in the hopes you would get home and watch their ads. Families would also visit with each other and bring sweets and sometimes raw meat.
Eid stops to be fun for boys who are in their early teens, as at that point people start to treat you as a grown man and not give you a cash gift. Lucky for the ladies, they will always get those cash gifts -- people are very religious about this. Brothers, fathers and uncles who are too poor to give out cash gifts still visit their female relatives and strive not to come empty-handed.
At one point when I realized I could no longer receive cash gifts, I figured out another way to make money. I started a toy stand where I would make money selling toys for boys and girls around town. I did well that day, even though I did not get to rest, but the money was worth it and I found a way to be busy on this day.
In Dubai we did not have family, but when we relocated to Gaza, the family came into the picture and we would get more cash gifts -- also my dad had to give a lot more than he used to in Dubai. My lovely grandparents were the most generous with us and their gift to us meant a lot more. We liked their teasing and jokes about us; of course, we would still kiss their hands and place it on our forehead.
A few things make Eid different in Gaza: for starters, there seems to be a truce between the Occupation and the Palestinians on this day. It's something that most appreciate, though the Israelis have used that day to sneakily abduct or assassinate people whom they do not like. Another thing is the funeral homes, where if a family has seen the passing of a family member it has an open house where people can swing by to visit with those in mourning. At the time, there were not too many places one could go in Gaza for Eid. You could either go to the beach or the Gaza business district and buy a liver and onion sandwich for about 25 cents. Yet somehow, family made all the difference and our days of celebrations were fun filled even in this hot spot.
Regardless of where one lives, it's always good to have a good time.
[Hat Tip: Kellee]
Follow Hani Almadhoun on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@hotarabicmusic