The word Eid means a festival and the end of the month of Ramadan is marked by a festival called Eid ul Fitr (Festival of Fast Breaking). It is a day of thanksgiving marked by a large communal prayer in the morning, wearing new clothes, visiting and general well-wishing throughout the day.
The festivities of Eid ul Fitr actually begin at sunset the day before because historically, the day would begin and end at sunset. In Muslim-majority countries, shopping malls see a sudden surge of shoppers with people buying new clothes to wear the next morning. A few days before the event, Muslims pay a small charitable tax called Fitrana to help ensure poorer people can also have new clothes and food on the day of Eid.
Traditionally, the communal Eid prayer used to take place in a single, central location within a town or city. This would happen in open grounds because the crowds were so large, and one could see a sea of people (men and women) lined up for prayer around them. The prayer itself is quite short, followed by a short reminder or sermon, normally all wrapped up in 10 minutes. People then wish each other with an Eid greeting and by exchanging hugs – it is quite a lovely sight.
What do people say? A specific Eid greeting has not been prescribed in religious texts and a popular, commonly expressed greeting is “Eid Mubarak” (“Blessed Eid”). There are linguistic and cultural variations of Eid greetings in other countries too.
In Britain, Eid prayers take place in mosques at mid-morning, and they are easily the largest congregational prayers of the year, typically 3 or 4 times larger than the Friday congregational prayer. To accommodate for demand, mosques repeat prayer services every hour about 3 or 4 times. Families can be seen walking to the mosque wearing new clothes (after the challenge of finding a place to park their car). Some wear new clothes that reflect their cultural heritage and others wear new clothes that are more contemporary – these are personal choices and not religious requirements.
Families and friends visit homes or plan trips and outings, with food at the heart of festivities. Eating is a particular feature of this day for it symbolises an end to the fasting Muslims had been observing during daylight hours for a month. The nature of festivities and the foods eaten change from region to region, and upon the season. In Britain, schools will normally allow children a day off school to celebrate the occasion. Children normally receive presents or money on the day.