The city is decked up in gold and greetings of "Eid Mubarak" resound from every rooftop and doorway. The shops are filled with flowing garments and jewellery and halwa and the heady aroma of frankincense makes your head spin in a pleasant way. It's Eid al-Fitr, the most important festival of Muslims which comes after 30 days of fasting in the month of Ramadan. It is three days of feasting and celebrations and general merry-making with your family and loved ones.
What is Eid and Why is it Celebrated?
Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and Muslims all over the world are expected to abstain from eating and drinking and sexual relations during daytime. Eid al-Fitr is the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month on the Islamic calendar. It is celebrated to show gratitude to Allah and ask for forgiveness for any transgressions committed. It is also a festival to forgive and forget any differences or animosity with others. Oman is all about traditions and culture, and traditions are what make Eid celebrations special. A festival that connects generations, Eid is a reminder that no one is forgotten.
Preparing For Eid
In the days leading up to Eid, people begin their preparations by buying clothes and finery and foodstuffs. Head to Mutrah Souk in Muscat, which will be filled with stalls selling all kinds of traditional garments and jewellery and spices. Quite like spring-cleaning, many Muslim households undergo 'Ramadan-cleaning' when the entire house is cleaned up from top to bottom as according to Islam, cleanliness is half of faith. It is very rare to see dirty floors or railings or cars during this time, with the result that everything is spotless and sparkling.
How Eid is Celebrated in Oman
The day begins with pre-dawn bath and a breakfast of sweets like halwa or sheer kurma (milk with dates and vermicelli) and dates, followed by a communal prayer and listening to a sermon in a mosque. All family members, men, women, and children are encouraged to take part in the prayers. People greet each other with 'Eid Mubarak' and hugs and it's normal to have strangers stop you on the street to wish you. It's customary to give charity; voluntary (sadaqah, with no fixed amount) and compulsory (Zakat and Zakar Al-Fitr) to the poor on this day.
Men and women dress up in their finest clothes today. Three sets of clothing are usually bought for the three days of Eid and men also wear the traditional perfume called attar. The boys can be seen in snow white dishdashas and women in flowing Abayas and their eyes lined with kohl. It is also a Ramadan tradition for the females to put elaborate henna designs on their hands. Omani hospitality also reaches new highs during Eid. People will offer you the Omani speciality of halwa, which is a sticky sweet, made of water, sugar, eggs, corn flour, and ghee, flavoured with cardamom and saffron, and sometimes infused with rosewater. Halwa plays an important role in celebrations in the Omani lifestyle and is bought fresh on Eid morning. This halwa is generally paired with Omani kahwa, which is like black coffee with cardamom and whole white cloves. Dates are also a common staple in this region and there are as many as 250 indigenous varieties of dates you can sample, such as Al Khalas, Al Khuzaini, Al Fardh, and Al Khasab. Omani hospitality also believes that no one will be without a home on Eid, so this hospitality extends to locals opening up their houses for strangers who can enter and partake in the happiness. Common mouth-watering celebratory food to be served is Kabsa(a rice dish with meat, vegetables, and a mix of spices), Shuwa (meat marinated in Omani spices, wrapped in palm fronds, and grilled in an underground sand oven), Meshkak or Kebab (marinated meat grilled on sticks), Harees (a mixture of meat and milk), and Mashuai (grilled kingfish in lemon sauce), Muqalab (Tripe cooked with cardamom,cinnamon, cloves, and other spices), and Sakhana (thick soup made dates, milk, molasses, and wheat). This can be served with bread, which is usually baked at home in an underground tandoor. For dessert, once again there will be halwa and
Eid is a time to celebrate with your family. There's usually a family meal on the second day; this meal symbolises unity as a family. People also visit other family members far and near on Eid and there is a family reunion. Exchanging of gifts is also an important part of the celebrations. While people may give each other food and clothes and other gift items, it is a Ramadan ritual for children to collect crisp Eidi money from the elders in the family, and also from neighbours and other close ones.
If you are visiting Oman during Ramadan, make sure to stay on for Eid and see how the entire country lights up and comes alive for this festival of love and togetherness.