I am a convert to Islam. It happens to me every year: we're at an iftar (breaking of the fast) at a friend's house. Our host is Sudanese. My sister-in-law, also a convert, leans in. "So, tell me, back home, what do you do for Eid?"
Eid is the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. For me, this is a challenging time. My sister-in-law and I have our own family traditions of course, the kind that have spanned generations, passed down from our parents to us with love and tenderness over the holidays for over 20 years. But they are recipes for mincemeat pies and heirloom tree ornaments. Carols and Christmas stockings. I am waiting for someone to tell me how I too can get that "Eid feeling", that "it's Ramadan" nostalgia. Once you set yourself adrift from the customs of your childhood, how do you "transfer" your affection to a new set of holidays? Who provides you with the customs you'd like to become attached to? And how long does it take to become attached in the first place?
Tradition and history are intertwined in their very nature - a "tradition" implies something you don't do often, but have done repeatedly over a period of time. The fact that you only partake in a certain ritual - be it a type of food, clothing, decor, even smells - at a specific time and rarely in between, gives it that "specialness", as well as the exclusive memories of enjoying it under the same conditions - at Ramadan or Eid time. In the early years after my conversion, this was hard to come by.
My best personal success story in this regard is the sweet milk my husband's family makes. I won't divulge the exact recipe, but it's milk with nuts and cardamom and tapioca. The first year I had it I enjoyed it well enough. The second year I liked it and it reminded me of the previous year. Now seven years later, to break my fast with that Ramadan milk and a date - it's like coming home. The first day of the month my heart almost bursts at the first taste, "it's RAMADAN!"
We recently moved away from our extended families, and it's made me feel a bit like a new convert all over again. Over the years, my husband and I have shared many of the customs of my South African in-laws. Eid has always involved lots of family and lots of good home cooked food. But I've come to feel lately, now that I have children of my own, that I am still looking for *my* tradition to pass on to them. For fear of falling into the trap of mimicking Christmas, I have had to think long and hard about the customs I want my children to take with them to be *their* Ramadan and Eid traditions one day. Part of me wonders if that's part of the larger picture of us being away from family, to push me onto my own 2 feet in creating something special for us, for me. Maybe it's a challenge ten years in the making. I hope I will perfect it one day.
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