Small or large.
Here or there.
That is ‘Eid.
When ‘Eid (either of them—‘Eid al Fitr follows Ramadan and ‘Eid al Adha will be in December) is there, it is a celebration that involves visiting and eating and happiness. Stuffed cabbage and grape leaves, tender lamb, mountains of rice, all consumed in houses at their cleanest, homes whose occupants have pushed aside their troubles for a few days.
When ‘Eid is here, it is all about the telephone and the children getting excited for their gifts, new clothes, and more good food.
For those here permanently, or for whom traveling abroad in the middle of September and October is not a possibility, it can be a sorrowful time, one that involves regret and guilt and sadness and longing (as it must be for American Christians abroad for that festive period from Thanksgiving to Christmas). A Lebanese friend (here) put it this way: “‘Eid makes you realize how much you’ve lost by living here, how little you fit in. ‘Eid here is like having a conveyor belt with shawarma passing in front of you all the time; you can smell it, you can see it, you can even reach out and touch it, but you cannot ever eat it.”
We don’t have a lot of family here, and our friends are from all over. The month of Ramadan tends to pass quietly (with some extra attention given to nightly meals). Sometimes we will spend ‘Eid with my nostalgic Lebanese friend and his family and sometimes we spend it alone. In the last few years, ‘Eid (Ramadan as well) has taken on a particular poignancy, is defined as much by what is absent as by what is celebrated.
Unless you’re my friend Rula, who is Palestinian, married to a Lebanese and who celebrates as if they were back home (there). During the month of Ramadan, her house is filled with grandmothers and uncles and cousins and friends and there is constant visiting back and forth. Most everyone in her family fasts the entire month and when ‘Eid comes, they take off from work, there are visits to the local mosque, the kids stay home from school, and though everyone is exhausted (and relieved) after a month of serious cooking, her kitchen is in a state of fullness: trays of stuffed grape leaves, roasted chickens, endless tea and coffee, and sweets (for many people the hallmark of ‘Eid) including her specialty, ma’amul (cookies stuffed with dates) and my favorite, kinafe, (made from soft cheese, vermicelli dough and soaked in sweet syrup; the Palestinian version of this dessert is dyed orange.)
At her house, even though she is away from her parents and there are still the loud telephone conversations, the asking after relatives and finding out who went where and how so-and-so is, ‘Eid is a truly joyous occasion.
As it should be.
Laila Halaby was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Jordanian father and an American mother. She speaks four languages, won a Fulbright scholarship to study folklore in Jordan, and holds a master's degree in Arabic literature. Her first novel, West of the Jordan, won the prestigious PEN Beyond Margins Award. Use the comments to share your own stories of ‘Eid.