In spite of disappearing traditions, you can't miss Eid in Cairo

Sarah El Sirgany
5 Min Read

More people buying kahk than making it, but holiday spirit in the air

CAIRO: Egyptians love to celebrate and Eid Al-Fitr is no exception. While some of the delightful customs long associated with the holiday have fallen by the wayside, others are going strong. Mass preparations for Eid started two days before the holiday, when the long lines at dessert and pastry shops shifted from the counters selling the traditional Ramadan konafa, basbousa and atayef to the counters selling kahk (a mix of flour and butter with sweet fillings), ghoriyaba (butter and sugar cookies) and petit fours.

While these baked goods have long been a part of Eid, the lines at bakeries are relatively new. Not so long ago, most people prepared these traditional Eid desserts at home in a delightful gathering for group baking.

Making kahk and other Eid desserts didn’t merely mean adding another dish to the table. Rather it represented a staple holiday celebration. Eid, at least for some families including mine, is associated with the pre-holiday gathering that produces large quantities of kahk for the consumption of the entire family and their friends. It’s not a cooking session; it’s the essence of the holiday and our childhood memories of it.

Unfortunately this year, we have joined the long lines at the kahk shops; my grandmother was too ill to supervise the preparation process this year.

While this change is saddening, there are other vital Eid traditions that are still going strong. Just by walking around Cairo before and during the holidays, it is easy to observe and share the celebrations with everyone else.

Eid is everywhere and a sensory delight for all your senses. You can savor kahk, listen to the startling sounds of firecrackers, watch a movie, enjoy a night out in a shopping mall or exercise your spiritual side through the Eid prayer and the following sermon.

It all starts in the last week of Ramadan.

The amount of business conducted at department stores and shopping malls indicates that buying new clothes to wear during Eid is still an ongoing tradition that isn’t likely to fall by the wayside any time soon. The traffic during the last two days in Ramadan, however, is a negative and unfortunate byproduct.

Just as Eid is about kahk, it is also about traffic, albeit a different type than the one associated with traffic jams at rush hour. Instead of cars there are people, thousands of people.

Public parks are overcrowded, shopping malls and movie theaters are packed, and the streets are brimming full of pedestrians with a minimum presence of cars. Those with an income that allows them to buy a car are usually out of town during the holiday.

The rest take their celebrations to the city’s streets. Go to the more shaabi or older, more traditional districts in Cairo and you’ll find crowds lined up for temporarily set up swings and other traditional, fun-fair like rides. It’s all in the streets. You will probably even spot a horse or two brought to residential areas for joy rides.

And even if you are staying at home, you can’t miss the public celebration of Eid and I’m not talking about the state TV reruns of the same “holiday movies every year. Children, with a good stock of firecrackers (commonly known as bomb el eid), start their annoying noisy pastime the night before Eid and don’t stop until they’ve exploded the last one. They do take a short break, though, during the Eid prayer. Although manufacturing firecrackers is illegal in Egypt, due to its dangers, children never seem to run out of these mini explosives.

The Eid prayers not only provide a break from the children’s firecrackers, but also represent an unchanged Eid tradition. The early morning prayer is an Islamic practice that draws thousands to mosques that often extend their praying space into the surrounding streets.

Probably, the prayer is the only tradition that will stand the test of the years, uniting people, regardless of class or social background.

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