Friday, November 04, 2005


The Eid and the Caterer

For some people in Iraq, today is the first day of the Eid. For others, it is the second!

After a full month of fasting from dawn to dusk, Iraqis like many other millions in the Muslim world, celebrate for three days. They call it the Eid. It is one of two religious festivals. The other, four days long, takes place after the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Because Muslims follow the lunar calendar, the Eid falls in different times every year – it shifts by about ten days every year relative to the solar calendar. This adds some variety to life! These years the Eid has been coinciding with the autumn – a wonderful time of the year for festivities, in most of Iraq. Our autumns are more like springs in other countries.

But the uncertainty of timing adds a bit of confusion to proceedings and to people’s ability to plan. For some reason, too many people are not yet convinced that the birth of the new moon can be computed ahead! There is also a traditional difference of timing between Shiites and Sunnis in determining when the new moon is born, and hence when to start the Eid. Shiites generally prefer to be extra sure and therefore they almost invariably start the Eid one day after the Sunnis.

For generations, Iraqis have learned to live with that. It has never caused any conflict or hard feelings. On the contrary, it has always been a source of jokes and amusement.
I also know many Shiites who start their Eid with the Sunnis simply for convenience. This tradition has continued through those two years of sectarian tensions. This year for example, Moqtada Sadr’s people (probably to spite Sistani!) as well as large segments of secular Shiites started their Eid with the Sunnis.

‘Mixed’ households, which are a lot more than most outsiders imagine, enjoy the superb benefit of sharing the festivities of first day gathering with both husband’s and wife’s families!! First they go to the Sunni spouse’s ‘first day’. The following day they go to the Shiite partner’s ‘first day’ family gathering. That, one has to admit, is better than any compromise solution!

The Eid, like Christmas, is a time of socializing and of visitations… only on a larger scale. It does not involve the immediate family only. Young ones you are taken (forced, sometimes) to visit uncles and aunts and parents’ friends. Naturally, this is a constant source of some resentment and a cause for rebellion!

The usual procedure is that all sons, and their families, will visit their parents’ home and have lunch together with something like an Italian wedding gathering. When the parents pass away, the elder brother usually acts as host.

The traditional Eid greeting is “Ayyamkum Saeeda” which literally means: “May your days be happy”… Happy Days!

A few days ago, I was at a caterer’s shop I usually go to. When I came into the shop, the proprietor, who is Christian, was having an argument with a patron. The patron wanted to order a Quzi, a traditional dish where a whole roast lamb is served on a large tray full of seasoned rice and other delicate additives.

The owner was repeating in an angered tone: “Don’t give me that ‘first day of Eid’ thing! Sunnis say this and Shiites say that. No, no, no! Give me a specific date”. The man kept saying that he couldn’t. He didn’t know when the Eid will be.

I couldn’t help laughing. They all smiled back… and then went on arguing.

I don’t know how many times I have heard that argument over the years! Always the same. The caterer will have to manage… like he always does, every year. But they still love having those arguments.

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