Date: Eid al-Fitr occurs on the first day of Shawwal on the Islamic calendar. It marks the end of Ramadan, a month long period of prayer, charity and dawn-to-dusk fasting. This year, Eid al-Fitr is on Saturday, July 18. Some Muslims will celebrate for up to three days.
History Lesson: Eid al-Fitr began when Islamic prophet Muhammad arrived in the city of Madinah and learned of two days people used to celebrate with grand carnivals. He told them, “Instead of those two days, Allah has appointed two other days which are better, the days of Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha.”
Reason for the Season: Eid al-Fitr is a joyous time where Muslims can congratulate themselves for their month long fast during Ramadan. It is a time to praise and give thanks to God through prayer and forgive old wrongs.
The Prayers: Muslims wake up before the crack of dawn for the pre-sunrise prayer known as Salatul Fajr. They then shower, brush their teeth and don their best clothes. The prayer of Eid al-Fitr is said at an outdoor prayer ground or mosque. Men sit in front of women for the Eid prayer, which includes a sermon where Muslims are urged to be good citizens and perform good deeds. This is a reflective, quiet time without speaking.
The Attire: Attire is very formal. Women will wear long gowns and Salwars, a pair of light, loose, pleated trousers tapering to a tight fit around the ankles. Hair cannot be seen, so a headscarf is worn. They often wear heels, which are taken off for prayer, and decorate their hands with gorgeous henna designs. In the U.S., many Islamic centers will set up henna booths on Ramadan’s final night. Men wear kurtas and pants, which cannot touch the floor and are rolled up during prayer. Similar to women’s attire, no skin should be showing.
The Greetings: Muslims can be heard wishing each other an “Eid Mubārak” (Blessed Eid) or “Eid Sa‘īd” (Happy Eid).
The Food: In South Asia, Muslims typically whip up a sweet, milky dish called sheer khorma, to eat with vermicelli pasta, dried fried dates and roasted nuts. Americans often eat curry in addition to American foods.
The Decor: Some people may put up special decorations around their homes, such as banners and the crescent and star symbol of Islam.
Other Rituals: Like Christmas and Hanukkah, children receive gifts and people exchange greeting cards.
Celebrate the Spirit of the Holiday: Turn the TV off, silence the iPhones and have a sit-down dinner with your family (remember those?). Reflect on times when you or a family member resisted temptation, perhaps a night you were the designated driver or a day your son said no when he was asked to smoke a cigarette. And let those grudges go. They’re taking up too much space in your head.
Related Holidays: Considered the holiest month of the year, Ramadan is a time to show charity, restraint and devotion to Allah. The most challenging part of the holiday tends to be fasting until sundown (children and pregnant women are exempt), so it’s no wonder Eid al-Fitr is such a joyous time. The second Eid holiday on the calendar is Eid al-Adha, which falls on Sept. 23-24 this year and celebrates the willingness of Ibrahim to follow Allah’s command and his son, Ishmael (an angel stepped in last minute and gave him a ram to sacrifice instead). Muslims wear new clothes, spend time with loved ones and may perform a symbolic act called qurbani, the sacrificing of an animal like the one Ibrahim sacrificed instead of his son.
Renee Khan contributed information to the writing of this story.