Growing up celebrating Eid as an Arab American in the 1990s vs. today
1996. Third grade. Minot, North Dakota. December. It was Christmas season and everyone was buzzing about what gifts they asked Santa for. Christmas books were read. The classroom was decorated with dazzling lights. My friends told me Santa is real and one of my friends even swore she saw him in the sky. I was the only Muslim in the class. In fact me and my brother were the only Muslims in the entire school in the small town. Ramadan wasn’t until January and Eid was a month after that. But it was fine because we were excited for the three weeks of winter break and all the yummy treats our friends and neighbors would share.
1999. Lima, Ohio. 6th grade. December. It was Ramadan too! My brother and I and one other girl were the only Muslims. We fasted and our classmates wondered why we weren’t eating while they wondered what they were getting for Christmas this year. A Sega Dreamcast? A nanopet? We were looking forward to the three weeks off, most of it during Ramadan and wait until Eid where our parents would take us to a small rented building the twenty Muslims in town went to pray Juma’a and held Eid prayer. We would receive our Eidiya, our Eid money, eat my mom’s delicious ka’ak el Eid, flaky buttery cookies topped with powdered sugar. We would share them with our lovely Indian neighbors and they would exchange their delicious gulab jamun with us throughout the year.
2001. Ohio and Cairo. Ninth grade. Phew. We were now in an Islamic School and everyone at school celebrated Eid and Ramadan. Late night taraweeh at the masjid with my schoolmates, halaqas at my house and my friends’ house on Friday nights. We would host fabulous Eid brunches at our house.This year would be extra cool because we would spend Eid and the last few days of Ramadan in Egypt since was during winter break and it was magical. We stayed up until morning Eid prayer with my cousins. Streets were adorned with Ramadan and Eid decoration. Lots of lights! And so many lanterns, fawanees, everywhere.
2012. Charleston, South Carolina. December. My first was born. Eid wasn’t until August so we had plenty of time to prepare for her first Eid. Eid came in August, and we dressed her up in the cutest Eid dress. We went back home to Ohio for Eid to celebrate with the family. We all dressed in our best, and put up Eid lights at home. We even got my daughter a onesie that said My First Eid. I never had that when I was young. There was even an Eid book out, published in 2007. Not bad! I’m sure there will be more as my daughter gets older.
2015. Ohio. June. My second was born. And Eid was next month! My first born daughter was 2.5 and was going to preschool. We made goody bags for her classmates and I was asked to come talk about Ramadan and Eid and read an Eid book! I found one or two Eid books. Not bad. But they were either a bit difficult to find at the library and local book store or written by…people who weren’t Muslim? It’s okay, I’m sure there will be more as my kids get older.
2015-2019. Ohio. My third was born in 2019. We went all out on Eid for the kids. We put lights inside the house (and outside!), decorated the house with lanterns, baked, decorated cookies, shared with our friends and neighbors. As my kids entered grade school, I was asked to come in talk about Eid/Ramadan and even read some books. A few books about Ramadan were being published, but there were still barely any Eid books. It’s OK though because there were lots of other fun Eid and Ramadan things we didn’t have when we were young: personalized pajamas, modern yet traditional Eid decor, LED lights, Eid cards. My friends and I even collaborated with the local library and planned Ramadan and Eid events. It was the best. My kids were excited for Eid.
2023. The Night Before Eid was sold a few weeks after. It was released just last month. It’s been mentioned in The Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press and more. Target stores nationwide bought a few thousand copies for their store and I will never forget the first time I went in the store and found it there. Finally, our stories are being recognized. Finally, our Arab traditions are celebrated. Finally, our food and language are normalized.
I needed this book growing up as an Arab Muslim in America, and I hope kids will embrace this story filled with intergenerational love, baking, and the magic of Eid. Although there are a few Eid books out there or coming out, there’s still work to be done. From a 2019 research, only 1.2 percent of books, 45 books, had some type of Muslim diversity. There’s a lot of work to do, and we are still underrepresented in children’s literature, but the talent amongst Arabs in America is incredible. We just need more publishers and editors to welcome us and believe in our stories.
This blog post is part of the #30DaysArabVoices Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature Arab voices as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Sahar Mustafah (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).
You can find out more about Aya's books here.