Written by Estella Cheong
After a long month of fasting, it’s now the end of the month of Ramadan, which means, the time of celebration has come for our Muslim friends! To children who are as yet unfamiliar with the many cultures of our vast and diverse world, how do we best explain the Eid al-Fitr festival that is now being celebrated across so many countries? Here are a few fun facts and common customs about the festival that can help you with that mission!
Eid al-Fitr and its many names
There are more than 50 alternative terms to the Eid al-Fitr festival listed in Wikipedia, as most languages have their own amalgamation of the original Arabic term, Eid al-Fitr, with their own vocabulary. For one, Eid al-Fitr has come to be known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri in parts of Southeast Asia from a combination of the Malay term, Hari Raya (literally, “Day of Celebration”), and Aidilfitri (from the Arabic “Eid al-Fitr”). Its other Malay term, Hari Raya Puasa is also commonly used in the region, with puasa literally translated to “fasting”. Thus Hari Raya Puasa more specifically refers to “Day of Celebrating End of Fasting”!
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Germany, and Greece, Eid al-Fitr is called the Sugar Festival. This came from the practice of the gracious Muslim hosts serving sweet candies and food to visitors during the festival!
How It Is Celebrated
Eid al-Fitr falls on the first day of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan (ninth month of the Islamic calendar). Generally, Muslims wake up early before sunrise on the day of the Eid, shower, dress up and head to the mosque to offer a pre-sunrise prayer called “Salatul Fajr”. On this wonderful day, they are encouraged to forgive and forget all conflicts they might have had with others in the year. Children of the family will take turns to seek forgiveness from their parents and grandparents.
Muslims then spend the rest of the day visiting friends and relatives and in turn, hosting them in their own houses. Visitors are treated to various special dishes usually inspired by local cuisines. For example, in Singapore, delicious foods like pineapple tarts, rendang, ketupat and Nyonya kuehs are served during the celebration of Hari Raya! Yum yum!
Traditionally, the festival falls on the day of the first sighting of the crescent moon. In Cape Town, Africa, devotees even gather at a location called Green Point on the eve of Eid al-Fitr for the sighting of the moon!
Eid al-Fitr is not only an occasion for showing gratitude and remembering Allah, but also a time when the spirit of generosity is especially practiced. For example, before the Eid al-Fitr festival, Muslims give donations and alms to the poor, an act of charity called sadaqah al-fitr (the charity of fast-breaking).
The Fasting Before
Just as the meaning of Hari Raya Puasa (Day of Celebrating End of Fasting) suggests, Eid al-Fitr falls on the end of a month of fasting. Since the concept of fasting may be especially new to kids, here are some explanations on the Why’s and How’s of this practice!
Why fasting is practiced: Fasting is prescribed in the Islamic scriptures and is seen as a ritual that purifies the heart and mind. By resisting natural urges of eating and drinking during the day, those who fast cultivate a stronger self-discipline in abstaining from undertaking negative acts such as stealing and lying. Moreover, it allows them to empathize with the poor and underprivileged, thus teaching them to show appreciation for the food they have and to also help the less fortunate.
How fasting is practiced: Fasting is mostly practiced among adults, and even among them, exceptions include pregnant women and the ill. Although fasting usually starts when children reached puberty, younger children are commonly eased into the practice by participating in the special month of fasting together with the rest of the family. However, younger children usually fast for half of a day, eg. until noon. They will break their fast with a small meal, before continuing to fast until dusk. As peers, children can be taught to exercise sensitivity and understanding for their fasting friends and especially look out for their well-being during this period.
How You Can Celebrate Eid al-Fitr
If your family has been invited to celebrate Eid al-Fitr at the house of a host, do remember to teach your kids the proper festival etiquettes such as greeting those celebrating the Eid with a friendly “Selamat Hari Raya” or whichever greeting that is used locally in your region. Also, remind our young ones to only take what they can consume to prevent food wastage. When it comes to celebrations, adults will usually give out green packets to the younger children. Keep in mind to advise the excited children to resist from opening the green packets in front of the host, and comparing the contents of the packets with other children. At the end of the visit, to show appreciation to the host, a sincere and heartfelt “Thank You!” from our little ones will definitely bring a smile to their faces!
Lastly, why not share the festive spirit with Muslim friends and neighbours by making crafts and goodies for them with the kids? Check out tutorials for glass lantern decoration, papier mache mosques and other Eid craft ideas here. Not forgetting the yummy Eid al-Fitr delicacies, here are some easy recipes you can follow for sumptuous festive cookies and cakes!
Read more about Ramadan for the children, including Teacher’s Guides and worksheets for the kids at http://www.kiddyhouse.com/Ramadan/.
We wish you a Happy Eid!