Eid in UAE: Remember how we used to do it… The Emirati way

A file picture of people greeting each other during Eid Al Ftir at the Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Photo by Erik Arazas

The UAE this week is about to build up to an Eid Al Fitr festive mood.

The population wishes well to the leadership, and prosperity, stability and happiness to the UAE and its people, expatriate residents, and other Muslim countries.

The UAE celebrates Eid Al Fitr ritual with a very special flavour due to Emirati customs and traditions in the light of its cultural multiplicity and diversity.

This diversity brings the UAE closer to the rest of the Arab and Islamic peoples.

Eid cheer permeates throughout the country, and is reflected through the smiles of children, the exchanging of congratulations among adults, and family visits to relatives.

The images and manifestations of Eid Al Fitr are similar in different parts of the country as the customs and traditions on this occasion are convergent, most notably the Eid prayers, visits of relatives and friends in groups and assemblies to eat traditional Emirati food, as well as celebrations of traditional arts and the singing of folk songs in an atmosphere of love, compassion and happiness.

Eid joys in the UAE are associated with customs, traditions and folk heritage that the families observe, starting from heading to prayer sites on Eid's first day in morning and then exchanging greetings among the members of the community, followed by family gatherings in the majlis or at residences of a renowned local dignitary, where they exchange Eid greetings and have a customary meal and Arabic coffee.

In the afternoon, folklore groups line up in public squares to perform traditional dances.

Speaking about Eid, Emirati Amna Mohammed Saeed said that the UAE national women in the past used to be begin preparing for Eid Al Fitr during the month of Shaaban.

They used to prepare the Ramadan and Eid food. She added that the Eid festivities "would not be complete unless we have prepared for this occasion."

She added that the purchase of Eid clothing starts early, but demand increases with the advent of Eid Al Fitr and for this reason, people flock to the markets, especially the old souks, to sell and buy.

On the morning of Eid, people eat breakfast "mash", which is the main Eid meal of the holiday.

It is cooked at night and is a favourite meal among Emiratis, though some prefer "Al Arasia”.

While some people have their Eid meal before the prayer, others prefer to take the meal after the prayer.

Amna said that as time rolled on, "We introduced some sweets and rice with meat, fruit. So people put quantities of fruit in their majlis to receive guests. These fruits include dates, and there is always coffee and tea.”

She said that UAE citizens have been hospitable and keen on the occasion of Eid to present the tastiest food and drinks to visitors, while residences remained open, teeming with visitors including friends, relatives and acquaintances.

Before Eid, the women used to begin preparations by cleaning up the house and buying new Eid clothing, for children in particular, and all members of the family in general.

The women used to meet to sew Eid clothes by hand as a group.

The boys used to wear the Arab Kandura or a dyed Kandura.

She added that the women used to pick henna leaves a month or two before the advent of Eid and these leaves would be dried and processed and used ornamentally for girls and women.

Amna continued, saying that in the old days, there would be a woman to expertly mix perfumes and make incense tablets, however, some women were skilled enough to do it themselves without going to the perfume specialists.

Also talking about times past, Emirati Rashid Obaid Al Tunaiji said in the last 10 days of the Holy Month of Ramadan people used to begin preparations for Eid Al Fitr.

They went on the backs of camels to the markets in Sharjah, Ajman or Dubai, while citizens in Al Ain used to go to the markets of Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

He said, "We used to load the camels with firewood and other stuff on a journey for a day or two or even more, depending on the distance. We often used to trade during the journey, as everything we carried was for sale. We had fun and used the money to buy dates and Eid clothing, and then we go back home to get ready for Eid.

"Eid was a delight for both adults and children. Children used to prepare for Eid just like the adults, and men used to dye their clothes by using some plants."

Al Tunaiji recalled the olden days, where there was no media. "There was no television, telephone and even the radio did not enter our lives. So before Eid, we used to detect the crescent moon from a high and open place searching in the direction of "Al Qibla". While young, we used to go, before sunset on the 29th day of Ramadan, before Maghreb prayer, with our parents and grandparents, carrying along with us our breakfast, which used to include a few dates and Arabic coffee.

"The men used to carry guns and some special tools on the occasion. At a high point, all of us used to fix our sight to detect the moon as there were no telescopes, no astronomy centres, so people depended on seeing the crescent moon correctly and directly."

He explained that the first day of Eid has been, and still is, one of the most important events that brought joy to the hearts of the people of the UAE. When the moon loomed on the horizon, shots were fired in the air to declare Eid. Then, people would take their breakfast on the spot and after the prayer, return home, chanting popular folkloric songs and beaming with joy and happiness.

Al Tunaiji said that despite the primitive life experienced by parents and grandparents, during which times the sighting of the crescent moon of Shawwal was difficult, they were able to identify some of the primitive means to declare Eid al-Fitr, such as accounting from the beginning of fasting. "If our fasting completed 30-days, and if the weather was clear before sunset, we could see the crescent. Then the canon was fired from the Ruler’s Palace in each emirate. Thus people knew that EID was the next day."

With the passage of time, he continued, the people in the cities would fire shots in the air to declare the appearance of the moon. This was done on orders from a tribal chief or well-known figure. When neighbouring tribes heard it, they informed their neighbours too, until the happy information was spread. Al Tunaiji said that on the eve of Eid, some people stayed up for the whole night. In the morning, people exchanged greetings and wished each other well. It was an occasion during which hearts were filled with serenity, fraternity and affection.

He said that people went to mosques to perform the Eid prayer on the first day of Eid to praise Allah, and after the prayer, returned home, singing. When they made their return journey, they often changed course from the route they had arrived by. They would meet in the centre of a neighborhood in a spacious place, shaded by tall trees, until about noon, and then went home to rest or visit relatives and friends.

With regard to Eid gifts, or "Eidiya", Al Tunaiji said that this is traditionally an amount of money distributed to children for the occasion. It is an idea based on Ramadan solidarity. It paints a smile on the faces of children who gather to collect Eidiya from relatives in the neighbourhood, chanting a phrase from Emirati folklore, "We have been given Eidiya". He said the parents used to prepare Eidiya before Eid, and it used to be some coins. Now, he said, children prefer banknotes instead.

Al Tunaiji noted that Eid in the past had a special taste, whereby the old flavours and spirits of the past were blended, filling the hearts with joy. "We now miss it," he said, "as the Eid festivities are dominated by modernity, globalisation and digital technology."

He said that despite this, Eid in the UAE has many rich rituals that strengthen the social bonds characterised by morality and good practices, care for the poor and respect for the elderly. The people still meet to exchange greetings and gifts, he said, as Eid has been, and still is, one of the most important events that brings joy to the hearts of the people of the UAE.

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