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26 October 2012

Ahlan Ahlan bil Eid!

Translation: welcome, welcome Eid!

Today is Eid Ul Adh-ha, or the Feast of Sacrifice (according to wiki!). Muslims celebrate this day to remember the great sacrifice that Ibrahim was willing to make when God asked him to sacrifice his only son, Ismael. Ibrahim consulted Ismael on this and Ismael was more than willing to allow his father to do what was asked of him. God instead took a ram for sacrifice, and we have been marking this religious day by sacrificing goats of our own. It also marks the end of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Over the past couple of days, I've been trying to remember my most recent Eids in particular and my family's Eid traditions in general.The worrying thing is that my mind goes blank. Not just hazy, it's like I have chunks of my memory that have just disappeared. Anyway, that's a topic for another day!

Thankfully some memories of Eid have been coming to me in snippets. I suddenly remembered that, before every Eid, my Dad would go and buy things for the house and he'd always come home with a tin of Quality Street. That was a special treat for us and I'd always sneak into the tin and eat the yellow ones :D all that toffee and chocolate, yum yum! As I grew older I started preferring the purple one and the red one - the strawberry cream filled dark chocolate, which no one seemed to like. More for me!

And like all other households, we would have ka'ak, or biscuits, for the guests that would visit us over the Eid period. Especially ma'amul, which are biscuits filled with dates or nuts, sprinkled with icing sugar. And a Yemeni tradition is to set out raisins and almonds for your visitors. 

So, family tradition. On the first day of Eid, we would wake up and put on our new clothes. Everyone wears new clothes on Eid, even men, who get new dishdashas (the long "gowns" that Arab men wear) tailored, sometimes in shades other than white. My Dad used to have a saying that he would say to his new clothes, as he playful stepped on them with his bare feet. He would say - "ana al jadeed wa ant al bali" - I am the new and you are the worn out. To this day I nostalgically say this to my clothes if it is the first time I am wearing them.

Since a goat or sheep is sacrificed in the morning, we would always have its liver for breakfast (sorry goat). Liver stir fried with potato, parsley and onions. And tea with mint. And fresh bread. I don't remember if the men went to pray before or after breakfast. A detail my memory can't grasp. Then, once we've been fed, the men and children set off to visit their wives' relations. Meaning, my father would visit my maternal grandma, my aunts, my mom's aunts, etc. and my brothers would join him and then also visit their own wives' relations. In each home you'd be showered with frankincense, perfume, sweets and be given money. The ladies of the house give children money and the visiting men give the ladies money. When I was still young enough to join my father and brothers on these rounds, we'd leave my mother and sisters in law to be visited by other male relations and children. From house to house we'd go, in our new outfits and with money in our tiny pockets, until all the relations had been visited.

Looking back, I think it was wonderful that we visited all those homes. Some were hidden in the cobble stoned streets of Sana'a while others had gardens shadowed in vine leaves. Houses that great aunts have now left because they became difficult to keep up and impractical - especially stone stairways, trying on the knees. It now seems like families were larger, there were more people to see, more cousins to play with, more aunts to comment on how much you've grown. But families then started spending Eid in other cities down by the coast, so Eid visitations decreased. Although, these coastal holidays would be taken by several families at once, so maybe they were celebratory in their own right.

On the afternoon of the first day of Eid, all the women from my Mother's side of the family would meet at my grandmother's house. Off we'd go to see our cousins, compare our day's spoils and consume more sugar. There would be more biscuits, milky tea and coffee made from the coffee bean shells. 

On the second day of Eid (if I remember correctly, forgive me), my younger brother and I would be whisked away to the toy shop to spend our Eid money. Sometimes we'd save a bit of it, and sometimes we would pool it and get a bit more money to buy a big item like a bicycle to share. Nowadays children buy Nintendo DSs or fancy electronics. Oh and we'd always buy firecrackers. Tons of firecrackers to set off with our cousins! 

And within a few days the Eid celebrations would die down, no one wanted to finish that last ma'amul, schools would restart and life would go back to normal.

As I started spending my Eids away from Yemen, they became less family orientated and more Oxford Street orientated. I hope that one day I can celebrate another Eid in Sana'a, and that I'd get to wake up and have breakfast with my mother, Louis, brothers, sisters in law, nieces and nephews, that I'd wear my new clothes, welcome the wonderfully dressed children and spend the afternoon drinking tea with my cousins and aunts. 

Happy Eid break to all.



  1. I loved reading this, and hearing about all the traditions! I especially like the Quality Street, and your Dad's words to his new clothes. You remember more than you realise- thank you for sharing!

  2. I Loved it too habibty wallah alEid dakryato 7elwah :D oo btw ana kaman t3jabni alstrawberry cream filled dark chocolate 7aq Quality street hehe :P

  3. looool our eid was a bit more miserable....the past three, including this one, i got a horrid cold and played a god of war game loool....tho next year i do what to c something get killed...i hear it is very close to the ibrahim-ic experience as u ponder the bravery and the extreme devoution to allah he must have had to raise a blade to his son when u r looking at this goat and thinking 'u know we can grab some fish and chips instead'...:)

  4. First of all happy eid saba. Mashallah for your good memories . I was reading it as if i am watching a Turkish series with more than hundred series.You took me down a walk through memory lane.


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