Festivals anywhere are a medley of fun, frenzy and excitement, a celebration indeed of all the good things in life, a realisation in regard of the emotions that compose our humane nature, events that inspire devotion and arouse goodwill and serve as occasions that provide relief from the mundane happenings of a routine existence. All of these festivities then are reasons for rejoice and celebration that has always kept the human being excited and engaged, while bearing also a greater essence in maintaining the spirit of our ideal existence.
No wonder then that festivals everywhere are marked by special preparations that showcase all of their delight in anticipation. From traditions and customs to decor and dress and of course an array of food and drinks, every festival is essentially similar in what they span as even while maintaining all uniqueness of what makes them special occasions. It doesn’t matter if the occurrence is one steeped in religious reverence or is cultural in its curation or manifests as a social observance of widespread popularity, festivals always are a marker for each of the human senses and the soul to find peace and prosperity in.
Peace indeed is what practicers of the Ramadan fast experience in all rigours of its performing as a month- long affair. And celebrating the culmination of this intense period of strict abstinence as a spiritual prescription, even when furthering cultural bonhomie and social unity and the ultimate fellow feeling as one of the largest religious festivals of Eid is guaranteed to be as grand a experience as can be. Replete with a whole platter of sweets such that has even earned it the amusing name of Sweet Eid or the even more cloying reference as Sugar Feast, with also a host of special savoury dishes and drinks summing up the essential Eid feast, this Islamic celebration might seem to be the most flavorful festival ever.
But equally intriguing and celebratory are the other aspects of what finds as essential representation in this occasion essentially concerned with the two opposites- or rather complements- of fast and feast, with everything from the aesthetics and the emotions taken care of. Even for a festival that is variously known also as the Festival of Breaking the Fast or Happiness of Breaking the Fast, Eid-ul-Fitr needs to be ushered in with a whole lot of glitter and generousness on the side.
Even as mosques and houses are cleaned along with the purification of the soul sought to be availed through the Ramadan fast and everyone irrespective of age and gender and social standing don new clothes while women also adorn their hands with henna and buy bangles specifically on Chaand Raat, what still resonates greatly with the characteristic Eid cheer is a tradition very proclamatory in its quintessential residing as part of the traditions on the day of sighting the new moon. Evoking quite an emotion of nostalgia and joy and anticipation all together, the custom of giving Eidi is integral to the celebrations in what it bears both as a gift and as blessing.
The theme of giving is central anyway to the Eid celebrations. In fact, Islam mandates giving some portion of one’s wealth to the less fortunate people which is something even more specifically encompassed within Eid al-Fitr. Zakat al-fitr is traditionally paid by devout Muslims to ensure that everyone can partake of the festivities with all their heart and soul. Eidi of course is not zakat in any sense; it instead is a gift that all festivals ordinarily sees the exchange of. But that it is still tied in some way to the nobler cause in selfless giving to others is what makes this proposition also as noble an intent of true religious observance.
Eidi is more indulgent though in that it is generally given to children by elders as a show of love and as blessing indeed. Also known as salaami and understandably expressing in a vibe of something that the younger folks look forward to as perhaps the most appealing quotient of the festival, the traditional offering of eidi would be money tucked into envelopes that would excite the kids enough to be greeting everyone with that charming rendition of Eid Mubarak.
Eidi however need not be always occurring in counts and crispness of the notes even when in some Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, the central bank does indeed specifically issue fresh notes every year to this end. Nor does this gift giving need to occur only between adults and children. Family members and friends too engage in this special act of celebrating, as shows of love and goodwill and even a general obligation that though is performed in all spirit. Jewelry and clothes would be the most obvious choices but there does not really exist any assertion of traditionality when it comes to surprising your loved ones with the perfect Eidi gift.
And yet, even in its thriving as a concept of free flowing identity, Eidi still is ingrained somewhere in every celebration of the festival. Which is why it is a custom followed by Muslims in certain countries like Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia to offer the Eidi money in green envelopes. Green being the color of Islam itself, attributing then this traditional, even when derived way of going about this ‘ritual’ bounds therefore Eidi even more to the greater span of the Eid celebrations.
Eidi then would largely be a cultural consonance that the festival bears even while imbibing the religious essence of it. No wonder then that this handing out of green envelopes is a custom that originated not in the alleys of Islamic holiness but upon the foundation of a very human spirit that festival all over ‘conspire’ to stir. From the Malay grounds of its adapting from the Chinese tradition of the red envelope, these green envelopes carrying all the Eidi wealth finds therefore colloquial reference as duit raya. This evident shade of religion however is not the only element that makes Ramadan and Eid here in this part of the world emerge as even special a case of the already interesting celebrations summing up the festivities globally.
Particularly in Singapore and Malaysia, a distinctive feature of Ramadan happens to be dedicated bazaars that spring up annually during the start of the holy month and run the entire duration of that 30 day period leading to Eid. This again is another cultural influence upon the originally religious observation and aren’t any unlike the more prominent Christmas markets of the world when it comes to buzzing with the festive vibe. With also socio- historical influences thrown in the mix, these Ramadan bazaars that have been regulars of the celebratories sometime since the 1960s or 70s conjure up for the Eid festivities a character of cosmopolitan charm.
With everything from special delicacies and traditional foods to gift and decor items on offer, aesthetically displayed on stalls and dispersing the excitement very palpable in its feeling, an ambling along the length and breadth of these yearly ‘fairs’ affords a different experience altogether of Eid. Despite their exclusive regional identity though, many similar local Ramadan Bazaars or Iftar Bazaars also do the rounds in certain other countries resplendent in all excitement and frenzy of Eid.
Such cultural strands of the present day celebrations might not strike as very surprising but what is revealing indeed a fact of the festival is that not even the most ‘authentic’ of phrases wishing Eid cheer is not a directive of the religional. It makes for quite a sight of wholesomeness that is appreciated in the gesture of Muslims hugging friends and family and neighbours three time while uttering the customary Eid Mubarak after the prayers. But turns out Eid Mubarak resounds in its relaying of cultural significance rather than being a practice steeped in Islamic virtues. Either way though, upholding the geniality and cheer of the festivals is what heartfelt wishes of Eid Mubarak definitely does making therefore this cultural component of Eid as revered as its religiousness.
The traditions of Ramadan and Eid, whether spiritual or social in their stemming are unlike what characterise any other festival globally. A month of religious fasting that sees euphoric celebrations take over the spiritual regard on the day of Eid which interestingly forbids fasting and encourages feasting instead, all while evoking the goodness of Islam and pursuing such intent of piousness in all humanness, this definite fore of the celebrations sparked by the sighting of a specifically shaped crescent moon is one of uniqueness. As the world prepares for yet another Eid al-Fitr to unfurl the celebrations, one cannot help but marvel at the exquisite essence of what has these religious observances easily occur as secular occasions that everyone appreciates in all its character of divine and human purity.