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UAE’s Eid celebrations: A legacy of piety and giving

UAE’s Eid celebrations: A legacy of piety and giving
8 Apr 2024 09:30

AMEINAH ALZEYOUDI (ABU DHABI)


As Eid Al Fitr is around the corner, the UAE is getting ready to welcome the religious festival with an array of customs and traditions. Eid Al Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk; a time for spiritual reflection and charity.

From participating in Eid prayer to visiting relatives and friends, and exchanging gifts, including the distribution of cash gifts for children known as “eidiya”, the festive occasion is a time for family, togetherness, sharing and gratitude. During Eid Al Fitr, families delight guests with traditional delicacies, such as harees, khabees, luqaimat, arsiya, and balaleet.

And, of course, no Eid celebration is complete without the obligatory Arabic coffee and traditional sweets, further enriching the ocasion’s hospitable and festive spirit. In the afternoon, folklore groups line up at public squares to perform traditional dances such as Al Ayyala and Al Harbiyya, known for their expressive movements, poetry and rhythmic drum beats.

Sharing Eid traditions, Aisha Al Zaabi, an Emirati national, said that in the past, women began preparing for Eid Al Fitr in the month of Sha’ban, preparing food for the month of Ramadan, and special delicacies served during the Eid.

“The joy of Eid is not complete unless we prepare the popular dishes for this occasion, the most important of which is harees, the porridge-like dish made of wheat, chicken or lamb, cooked with ghee and an array of spices,” she said Al Zaabi said that markets brim with activity ahead of Eid, especially clothing and sweet stores.

During family visits, family members gather around what is called “Eid Fawala”, which is the main table prepared specifically to welcome Eid, which includes a variety of popular Emirati foods and sweets such as luqaimat, balaleet, and khabees. In the old days, women gathered to sew Eid clothes by hand, especially kandoora for children.

A month or two before Eid, women pick henna leaves, then dry them, grind them, and sift them. They remain until a week before Eid, when they are kneaded with boiled dried lemons to be placed on the hands and feet of girls and women, according to Al Zaabi.

As for perfumes for the occasion, many prefer to turn to a woman who is specialised in mixing perfumes and making incense tablets. Also sharing Eid traditions, Rashid Obaid Al Tunaiji, an Emirati citizen, said in the past, people would begin preparing for Eid during the last 10 days of Ramadan.

“On camelback, they would head to the markets, whether in Sharjah, Ajman, or Dubai. Usually the shopping journey lasts for one day and one night, and in some areas, it may be longer or shorter depending on the distance,” Al Tunaiji said.

“During the trip, we often sell everything we carry, and the rest we take to the market. Early in the morning, buyers come to us and we sell everything we have and buy bread, rice, grains, dates, and Eid clothes. Then we set off on our journey back home and get ready to welcome the Eid,” he added.

In ancient times, men would prepare their clothes long before the holiday. They dyed their clothes in the old-fashioned way with gorse (a type of plant), which was mixed with saffron, he noted. For the sighting of the crescent moon, to mark the end of Ramadan, people in the past would go to a high open place facing the Qiblah, the direction of the Kaaba towards which Muslims face when praying.

“When we were young, we used to go before sunset on the 29th day of the holy month of Ramadan, before the sunset call to prayer. We accompany our fathers and grandfathers, carrying breakfast, which consists of some dates and Arabic coffee, to watch for the crescent moon,”Al Tunaiji said.

“Traditionally, if the skies cleared before sunset on the 29th of Ramadan, people would gather to see the crescent moon. The crescent sighting signalled the start of Eid, marked by celebratory cannon fire from the ruler’s palace in each emirate. This joyous sound spread the news far and wide. Unfortunately, those in remote areas couldn’t always witness the moon directly. They often relied on estimations or completing the full 30 days of Ramadan.”

Over time, celebratory gunfire in cities became a way to announce the sighting of the crescent moon. This practice likely originated with tribal leaders authorising celebratory shots after confirming the sighting. Streets will be filled with vendors and people by then, and families will be busy welcoming guests and distributing eidiya to children.

“People exchange congratulations and express their joy at the completion of the month of fasting and ask God Almighty to accept their fasting and prayers, and for it to be an acceptable fast in which hearts are purified,” he said.

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