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48: Marching to Eid

Waheed Orya
The streets are coming to life, vendors are wailing, and the calendar is flipping to that long-awaited arrival of Eid. Waheed Orya steps into the pre-Eid bustle to see how Afghans gear up for the fun.
7.08.2013  |  Mazar-e Sharif
Tailors turn their greatest profits of the year before Eid, as people get new traditional clothes made for the holiday. (Photos: Orya)
Tailors turn their greatest profits of the year before Eid, as people get new traditional clothes made for the holiday. (Photos: Orya)

After almost a month of fasting rigours, Mazar-e-Sharif is stirring to life again. Ramadan, the month of spirituality and prayer, brought a wonderful silence to the city as the population sought shelter from the 45-degree Celsius heat wave. Now, you can see people who are happy yet fatigued out again once more in the city, buying clothing, cakes, cookies, baked peas, raisins, walnuts and almonds.

Briefly on the slightly misleading definition of the Eid festivals: Although Eid-ul-Fitr is called Eid-e-Kochak (small Eid), or Kochonai Akhtar as Pashtuns call it, and Eid-e-Qurban is called Eid-e-Bozorg (big Eid), it works the other way round. This upcoming Eid is celebrated more lavishly even than Now Roz (New Year), and is when everyone gets together for a big culinary blow-out after the fasting hardships.

So this week as I too emerged to go and stock up on confectionary for Eid, I took a mental step back from the customary shopping spree and looked at how we gear up for the big day, which falls on Thursday. The sidewalks are heaving with people and car horns are blaring all around.

The sounds of haggling surround me, and near me, a mother is driving a hard bargain with a shopkeeper over a pair of sandals she wants to buy for her daughter. And the prices for goods sail over the crowd, “One price for everything, only 50 afghanis!”, (Get your goods for a happy Eid!"

People call the last ten days of Ramadan Da-e-Paraan (Paraan means fast-moving), since everybody is busy working, shopping or cleaning, and they even do not feel like they are fasting.

I stop to chat with a middle-aged tailor named Dawood, who is in good spirits as business is seldom this good. “From the beginning of the Ramadan people are buying cloth - you seldom may find someone who does not wear Afghan clothing during Eid,” says Dawood, who reveals that he has ten people working round the clock, and still had to turn away about 40 per cent of the customers due to the weight of his orders and lack of time.

Meanwhile, the women and girls are busy cleaning inside the homes for the arrival of relatives.

A strain for some

Mazar goes nuts: Mountains of walnuts, almonds and other nuts are consumed at Eid.Mazar goes nuts: Mountains of walnuts, almonds and other nuts are consumed at Eid.

For many, Eid is a celebration, but for others it is a worry, adding pressure to already stretched family budgets. Buying clothes for family members and children, and buying food to receive relatives and neighbours is a costly affair. In Afghanistan, engagements can last for years while the groom saves up for the wedding, which can create debts for life.

So during this wait, Eid is another customary time to woo the bride-to-be – and her family - with gifts. In rural areas, this may be a sheep or goat, or clothing, but in cities it is clothing, sweets, flowers and so on. And there is a more recent tradition of that the man should buy his fiancée gold jewelry, which effectively depletes the pot of savings for the wedding for another year.

Haseeb is with his mother and sister to buy presents for his fiancée. “I bought a pair of earrings, a set of clothing, a pair of shoes and make-up, and now, we are off to buy sweets,” he says, adding that the gifts were for the whole family. Haseeb has been engaged for four months. He’s finding the constant pressure of spending hard, but retains a philosophical stance, that he will only marry once and he wants to do it properly.

Leaving expenditures for Eid aside, it allows the fiancé and fiancée to spend some quality time together – something which does not happen all the time, especially in rural areas. Spending time with the one you love may be worth everything you do for Eid.

The festival

Eid lasts from one to three days, and everyone dresses in the best clothes. After Eid prayer in the morning of the first day, things get going. People start at home, and congratulate their immediate family before moving on to grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins…

The young people hang out in the evenings, watch movies, dance, play cards, tell stories and just generally let their hair down. The kids are often the happiest, since another tradition is that elders give ‘Eidi’ money to the children.

In rural areas, boiled egg ‘battles’ are a common game for children. Mothers usually boil the eggs well ahead of time, sometimes using onion skin and other additives to colour the shells. Then battle commences, eggs are cracked together and the less damaged one wins and the defeated broken egg is the prize.

Spirituality first

Eid-ul-Fitr is essentially a religious festivity. Since the time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), people have celebrated the first of the month of Shawaal by performing Eid prayer. Religously speaking, people have to perform collective prayer for Eid, and pay their religious taxes for the poor.

From this point of view, Eid-ul-Fitr is like Christmas, although I hear that commercialism is increasingly overshadowing that occasion's religious significance in the West. But in Afghanistan, the religious nature of holidays is actually deepening. For example, Now Roz, is not strictly speaking a religious occasion, but is increasingly observed as one.

And then it’s over. Three days of enjoyment can take it out of you too, so at the end of Eid the population comes down to earth, and with bellies satisfied and souls refreshed, it’s back to work.