Help me celebrate Eid and make it fun
November 27, 2009 4:42 AM   Subscribe

Help a misanthropic lapsed Muslim celebrate Eid in London! Looking for ideas from all cultures and none, on manufacturing a better holiday than the traditional one I usually dread.

Back in Pakistan, my family celebrated both Eids in much the same way: waking up early for the Eid prayer, followed by sheer khurma for breakfast. New clothes, a day spent visiting family and friends, with us kids hoping we'd get cash presents. Family lunch at my grandmother's. Then more visiting. That was the plan; actually we usually spent the entire day quarrelling and hating our extended families.

Now I live in London married to an Englishman and we can celebrate Eid as we wish. And I would like to insist on a fun twice-yearly celebration, full of new traditions, partly so that I can hold on to some of my own culture in a sea of British celebrations.

However, I'm stumped for what to do. All I can come up with is an Eid dinner for myself, my boy and a few close friends. This makes it basically a glorified dinner party, with resonance only for me. Metafilter, help me with your suggestions!

- If you celebrate or know people who celebrate Eid, how do you do it? What are the fun parts? Any special traditions, like cracking eggs on Greek Easter? If you don't celebrate Eid, any fun little customs I could steal, which wouldn't have other resonances for my English partner?

- No prayer/ mosque related suggestions please, it's not my style.

- Minimal sentimentality, maximum fun is my goal. So Thanksgiving style counting of blessings would not work here.

- In lieu of killing a goat, I've decided to make it a custom to decide as a family which charity we're going to support, and then making an equivalent donation on Eid. Still open to other charity-related suggestions, though.

- In Pakistan we get three days off to celebrate Eid. In the UK, not so much. Bonus points for suggestions on how to celebrate when it's still an ordinary working day, without postponing it to the nearest weekend.

For those unfamiliar with Eid, these are two important Muslim holidays. One Eid comes at the end of the month of fasting, Ramazan. The second, which is this weekend, commemorates Abraham's non-sacrifice of his son, Ismail in Muslim tradition. This Eid is the one where you slaughter animals and donate their meat to charity. Because the Islamic calender is lunar, the two Eids occur at different times of the year, about two months apart
posted by tavegyl to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

- In lieu of killing a goat, I've decided to make it a custom to decide as a family which charity we're going to support, and then making an equivalent donation on Eid. Still open to other charity-related suggestions, though.

This would be a pretty nifty stand-in.
posted by availablelight at 5:31 AM on November 27, 2009

Instead of killing a goat, why not donate one?
posted by Jakey at 5:33 AM on November 27, 2009

I came in to suggest goat donation, but I see I've been beaten to it. I did want to throw in an "Eid Mubarak!", though.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:24 AM on November 27, 2009

If you want to borrow from other traditions, what about the Scandinavian Santa Lucia celebration? These days it's mainly a secular tradition. Light lots of candles and serve hot (very delicious) saffron buns for breakfast. If you can get some children involved, it's even better.
posted by iviken at 6:30 AM on November 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

As you say the resonance is only for you, could you perhaps spin a reverse on the tradition of festive and family hospitality by arranging celebratory meals that you cook and serve for close friends in their own homes? I'm sure the novelty of "dining-out-in" would make it a memorable occasion for them.
posted by protorp at 6:55 AM on November 27, 2009

Hi there! I have lovely memories of Eid growing up and I still enjoy it now, even though I am not very religious. When I think of Eid, I conjure the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes:

Sights: Brightness. All the lights on in the house. People wearing new, colourful clothes. Smiling faces.

Sounds: Laughter. Music – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is the soundtrack of my Eids.

Smells: Ittar – which I ONLY ever smelled on Eid. I never liked the strong, musky ones, but there are some lovely jasmine ittars available. We had a tradition of my grandmother pulling out the ittar bottle and putting some on all of us.

Tastes: You know there’s nothing we Indo-Paks like better than food! Sheer khorma is a must. Muzaafar is optional. Biryani is always on the menu.

So, I’d suggest thinking about your memories of Eid and picking out what you liked and building on those. Loved the brightly coloured clothes? Do that. Hated the smell of ittar? Burn scented candles instead (but choose a scent that you’ll ONLY burn on Eid, so that you can start building a tradition). Pick a couple Pakistani dishes to make specifically on Eid. Keeping the dishes traditional will help you hold onto your culture in a non-religious way. Of course you could add a few non-Pakistani dishes as well, things you and your partner enjoy.

In my family, we don’t go from house to house but gather for a potluck at someone’s house. And on that note...I’m sorry to hear you ended up fighting with most of your family on Eid. My family has more than its share of drama but Eid is the one day we manage to put it aside and be really pleasant to each other. So in that spirit, could you reach out to any Muslim family or friends in the area? If not, could you make some Muslim friends who want to celebrate culturally but not religiously? I’m sure there are plenty of people like you in London; maybe you could place a Craigslist ad and get to know some of them (of course, that won’t help you THIS weekend but is something to think about for the long term).

Can’t help you with suggestions on how to celebrate on a weekday – our potlucks are always on the closest weekend. That part sucks!

Good luck with this, and Eid Mubarak!! Enjoy your weekend!
posted by yawper at 7:02 AM on November 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Something else just occurred to me. You used the phrase "glorified dinner party" so I wanted to point out that Eid in my family (and yours, it sounds like) has always been a whole-day affair. Think about it: for all the Christian/cultural holidays, we get the entire day off, not just a portion of it. In my family, people start arriving for the potluck around 1 pm, but the prep starts early - everyone gets up and showers, some go to mosque for prayers, and of course the cooking starts in the morning. So maybe planning it as a day-long thing will make it seem more like a holiday.
posted by yawper at 7:13 AM on November 27, 2009

For me, Bajram (as we call Eid in Sarajevo) is all about family, eating a lot (!) and community charity. The first and last are part of why we sacrifice a sheep (for us, it's nearly always a sheep.) The family eats, and a big portion of the meat is given to the poor who historically would otherwise not be able to serve meat due to the expense. The Heifer International suggestion is great, and one I did myself when I was feeling the need to do something and was pretty cut off from Sarajevo. Now I can get money to Sarajevo pretty easily, so I give a donation to people there who slaughter a sheep and give the meat to those less well-off. But, of course, this is a personal thing that makes me feel good just knowing I am helping keep a tradition alive - even if this is not really the most efficient way of offering charity these days.

I'm a bit lazy about celebrating Bajram, but this year I spent a lot of time reconnecting with long-missing friends and chatting on Skype and that sort of thing, so I was especially nostalgic yesterday when festivities began "back home." Next year I will do something, and it will be to make the largest dinner ever and invite people from my neighborhood, stray Muslims, people who can't or don't get out much, and some people in need, to have a really great party with lots of food and music. The food and music will be representative of my local culture and Islam in general, but it'll be geared around fun and the elimination of cultiness and different classes, at least for the day (or few days.) It won't be the same as it was when I was a kid, but oh well.

Bajram (or Eid) is a great holiday that's actually a lot like what Thanksgiving is supposed to be; in my family we really did manage to put aside squabbles (we had plenty of them the rest of the time!) Maybe this is easy to do without the singularity of going to one person's house (we visited everyone throughout the day, everyone visited us), the endless football games and the impulse to start shopping like mad the next day.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:37 PM on November 27, 2009

Eid Mubarak! My favourite aspect of Eid growing up was always Eid breakfast, which was enormous. We'd wake up early, dress up in all our finery, and after morning prayers we'd sit down to a ridiculously huge spread. We'd have omelettes, paratha, shami kabab, shemai, egg halwa, and a bunch of other things. The fact that we were all up so early made it really special.

I don't get the chance to do anything special for Eid now, but if I did, that is the one tradition I would hang on to: the waking up ridiculously early and eating fancy food for breakfast.

I can't help with making that workable on a weekday - I would shift it to the closest weekend.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:03 PM on November 27, 2009

If anyone is still reading this: this year's Eid was a washout (forgot to buy vermicelli), so planning will start well in advance for next year. Here's what I am thinking:

- Host a big early dinner/ high tea for friends and family, Muslim or not, with all the traditional foods, and a centrepiece of roasted leg of goat (something like this) which can be the special treat yawper suggested.

- I liked the idea of a 'look' like Santa Lucia. So I thought I'd get diya lamps. I'll also ask guests to come early and decorate one diya to present to someone else at the party, and help with preparations.

- After all preparations are finished, but before actually eating, go for a walk or a game of pétanque.

- Of course, lots of music: Nusrat Fateh Ali was my soundtrack as well, growing up.

And over the years, with luck, we'll develop new traditions and ways to celebrate.

A belated Eid Mubarik to those who celebrate it, and my thanks to those who replied and sparked ideas.
posted by tavegyl at 1:55 AM on December 9, 2009

(Only a couple of best answers marked as the ones who immediately sparked ideas, but thanks to all who replied)
posted by tavegyl at 1:56 AM on December 9, 2009

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