After a month of fasting during Ramadan, the Muslim faithful are rejoicing in their Eid Al Fitr. Eid Al Fitr is a precious feast of Muslims. It is the first feast before the New Year begins in the Islamic calendar. It is called Eid Al Fitr (feast of breaking the fast) because it is celebrated after breaking the fasting season. Everyone shares the excitement on this day, and in Eritrea the celebration is pleasing. Kids enjoy it with their fresh hairstyles, new cloths and sparkling pair of shoe while adults exchange best wishs for the Eid saying Kulu Am Antum Bikheir.
The final days of Ramadan are the busiest for Muslims as they go shopping, clean their houses, cook several dishes and serve drinks such as Abaeke-Fenugreek. Women make the best Abaeke and almost everyone wants to have more. Grinding shops get crowded because Abaeke is the most served drink on this Eid. This drink is adored by many people. Apart from its health benefits, if preserved well, it can last for weeks.
In Eritrea, particularly in the main towns, women prefer to make biscuits rather than buy them. Few bake cookies in their homes but many women and young girls knead their flour and take it to the bakeries. Baking these cookies takes almost a whole day; kneading the flour, making designs and cutting piece by piece. But, they say it is worth spending the day when they finally find the taste delicious.
Another tiresome activity in Eid is house cleaning. Every house member does his or her cleaning duty. All utensils and clothes are washed and bleached. Every room and shelf is cleaned, the walls are made free from spider webs, carpets are brushed and the floor is washed to the limit. Some households clean the floor with petrol to make it shiny. Those curtains that hanged over the windows for months are replaced with new or clean curtains and the rooms get fresh smell of myrrh and various pleasing perfumes.
Slaughtering an animal is a religious custom of the faithful in Eid. A sheep, goat or a hen may be used to celebrate the day. This way, fresh stew is served for lunch and everybody comes to one table. Selling the skin of the animals to traders is common, but in Eids, the faithful tend to deliver the skin to mosques, and the money from it is used to help the poor or the mosque.
For Eid, men get to wear their new hair-cuts. I remember one day I refused to go to the Eid prayer because I did not get my new haircut. For a child, Eid means so much. You want all part of you to be new so that you can tell friends your parents got that expensive looking stuff just for you. An interesting past worth recalling is the late afternoon activity on the eve of Eid at the grand Mosque of Khulufae Arashidin near the market. On this afternoon, the streets near the mosque used to be washed by vat trucks so that people can pray on clean grounds when they come in the morning. When this event was taking place in the late afternoon, kids were playful with the trucks to clean themselves for the Eid. Kids in schools also wait eagerly for the Eid day since it is the day they get their new pair of shoes and clothes.
Eid AlFitr, as its name indicates (breaking), is the festival of breaking the fast. A porridge or qcha fit fit is the common breakfast before leaving for the Eid prayer. Eid Al Fitr is the first and only day in Shawal (a month after Ramadan) during which Muslims are not permitted to fast, but they can observe six volunteer days of fasting after this day.
The Eid day starts with a congregational early morning prayer. In the old days, this prayer used to be held in the Khulefae Al Rashidin mosque. But in later years, when the number of attendants started to increase, the praying area had to be relocated into the open area of Bahti Meskerem square to accommodate the huge crowd. Men wear the traditional white Jelebyas or thawb, as the Arabs call it, and women wear their Luwyet (traditional Eritrean gown) or Abayas (black or white Arab traditional gown) when they go for the prayer. Going on foot to the praying area is believed to be an act of increasing the benefits. Muslims consider Eid as occasion to show gratitude to Allah and remember Him, as well as give alms to the poor. That is why in Eid Al Fitr the faithful financially or materially help the poor on the streets. After finishing the prayer, the faithful congratulate each other wishing for the Eid to be a blessed one saying Eid Mubarek or Eid Saeid (Happy Eid) and also wishing Kulu Am Antum Bikheir in Arabic.
The celebration of Eid in Eritrea is unique. Visiting hour starts just after the congregational Eid prayer. But, in other nations, the faithful head to their homes after praying. Many Eritrean Diasporas wish to celebrate the Eid day in their homeland. This is because Eid day in homeland is marked by helping the poor, visiting one another, and sharing the market atmosphere and so forth.
Visiting relatives and friends to share the joy is what makes the Eid day bold. Some people get upset if they are not visited by their relatives whom they expect to visit. The visiting is locally known as Mieyad. Family ties and kinship requires me and my brothers to visit all relatives on this day. To visit every house without forgetting means you have a strong memory of which house to start with. While visiting, kids enjoy most of the walks on the streets, and they in turn get the Hagel Eid, sort of proceeds of the year for them. This money given by relatives is the most meaningful thing to the kids and they count it at the end of the Eid day. If you save ten to twenty bucks at the end of the day, you are the Bill Gates of the week. It means a lot. If there is one thing I miss as a child, it was this Hagal Eid.
Kids on the streets often ask each other for Meeyedi (sweets and biscuits collected from every house) and we would offer one or two. I and my sisters used to save and hide the special sweets collected on the day and sort them one by one in the evening. As a house rule, chocolates brought by aunty or uncle from abroad for Eid were never served to guests, even though they insist they should be. “No way”! we used to say, because as children enjoying such sweet candies happens once in blue moon.
Eid Al Fitr is celebrated two days in a row our country and the celebration extends up to three days in some Arab countries. The joy on this day is remarkable for everyone regardless of their faith and particularly in cultures like ours. Grabbing the hands of your kids and walking in the streets, visiting families and friends makes it a unique and most cherished event.
The Eid day is determined by the sighting of the moon a day or two before Eid. Anyone who has witnessed this, regardless of their location, is advised to inform the authority about the sighting of the moon on the eve. This is how, today is, Eid Al Fitr.