Writer Salma El-Wardany was alone for Eid 2019. The isolated experience inspired her to make a change… for the better.
It’s the night before Eid and I feel a little lost and alone. The nagging sensation that it doesn’t really feel like the night before Eid is tugging on me. I’m sitting in my London flat working on a deadline that’s due the next day and the only indication that the biggest celebration of the year is happening tomorrow is a text from my mum and dad, asking how I’m going to spend the day. I don’t have an answer. I just know that it’s not supposed to feel like this.
When I was a child, the night before Eid was almost as magical as Eid day itself. My family would do a huge food shop to prepare for the party we held every year and, because it was Eid the next day, nothing was off limits, including cake and crisps. But the main treat was choosing an Eid cereal, because sugary food was never allowed in our house. I always picked Coco Pops and, to this day, I have to eat a bowl of Coco Pops on Eid morning. It’s the only time in the whole year that I eat them.
Once we’d done the shop we would go home and string up decorations all over the house, with balloons and tinsel hanging from every surface. My brother and I would then have our Eid baths and be handed our Eid pyjamas, a tradition my mum started with us as babies. Freshly washed and covered in new pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers, we’d trot downstairs to eat a final snack before bed, something delicious that we’d picked during our shopping trip. I used to fall asleep giddy with excitement, listening to the sounds of my mother and father preparing for the party the next day.
And what a day it would be. We’d wake up at 6am to the sound of Eid songs playing throughout the house, gather our presents and pile into the living room to exchange gifts. We had an Eid breakfast tradition involving the whole family eating Coco Pops that I was militant about following, no matter how late we were running. And we were always running late.
Everyone would then get dressed in their finest, brand-new Eid clothes before we all rushed out of the house to Eid prayers. From then on, the day was a stream of hugs and kisses as you greeted aunties and uncles, friends and elders, and any other Muslim you saw who you didn’t really know, but recognised from the mosque and so opened your arms to them as a fellow member of your community. Food and presents were piled on you at every possibility.
We’d then have a big afternoon meal at my grandmas before rushing home to prepare for the party that night. This was an open house we held every single year that would see most of Newcastle’s Muslim community arriving on our doorstep at one point throughout the night. Come 3am, you’d find the aunties of Newcastle laughing in the kitchen with my mother and the uncles sipping tea with my father in the living room. The teenagers would be huddled in my parents’ bedroom delighting in their lack of curfew, for once, and the babies would be scattered around the house sleeping on whatever cushion or blanket could be found.
The Eid I celebrate today is a far cry from the rituals of my youth. As such, it doesn’t always feel like Eid. The truth is, growing up, moving away from home and the reality of adulthood can really knock the celebration out of you. As kids of the diaspora we too moved cities and chased ambition and it took us far from our parents and the structures of our childhoods.
If you also happen to be single without kids and your own family structure, it’s even harder to create a day that feels full of celebration. Children often give us access to communities and without them it’s much harder to become an acting member of your local Muslim community.
Sure, some years I manage to make it back home for Eid but even then, it’s not the same. Life marches on without you and you find you don’t really know the faces from back home anymore. Plus, you can’t always get the time off work because we live in a country that is yet to recognise the customs of religions outside Christianity and Catholicism. Sometimes you can’t even afford the train or plane ticket back home.
And so, you find yourself alone the night before Eid, messaging the few Muslim friends you have to see if anyone wants to go to Eid prayers with you and maybe brunch afterwards, providing you can all get the morning off work. The magic of Eid has long since faded. Now it’s all logistics and practicality as you try to squeeze in one Eid activity in the hope that you’ll capture what it used to feel like.
Eid has just passed us by and for me, it went with barely an acknowledgement. I called my parents to wish them a happy Eid. I messaged a few friends. I finished a work deadline and eventually went to a restaurant with another Muslim friend, where we marked the occasion over hummus and mint tea. Coming from such rich traditions I recognise that I have lost something. Which led me to thinking about how it’s perhaps time to let go of the nostalgia of yesteryear, and start creating some new traditions that fit into the lives we lead today. After all, you can never go back and Eid will never be what it used to be, but it can still be magic.
Next Eid, my friends and I are consciously taking the day off work, no matter what. We’re instilling an Eid breakfast tradition. We’re all committing to getting dressed up. And when the sun sets, I’m opening my home to whatever community we’ve created and starting a new Eid party custom.
Of course, it won’t be the same. We’ll have to work twice as hard just to get the time off. The breakfast will probably be avocado and eggs in some bougie, hipster London restaurant. We might not be able to afford new outfits or, if we’re trying to be conscientious and take a stand against fast fashion and be more sustainable, we’ll settle for an old outfit we bought for a friend’s wedding. The party won’t last until 3am because the likelihood is that everyone will have to get up early for work the next day.
But in the middle of all that change, we’ll come together. We’ll laugh and joke and wish each other happy Eid. We’ll carve out time and create new traditions. Hold different parties. One day, we’ll start a new community that we’ll be the aunties and uncles of.
Images: Getty, Unsplash