This week millions of people around the world are celebrating Eid al-Adha. It’s a holiday that commemorates the story in the Quran where Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his son Ismail before God provided a ram to be sacrificed instead. It also coincides with Hajj. **(See note at the end of the post.)**
I happened to be in Morocco during Eid last year and had the immense pleasure of taking part in the celebrations there. I had previously only heard about Eid al-Fitr, which comes at the end of Ramadan, so I was excited to learn about something that was new to me.
The Country Prepares
Eid al-Adha is a huge holiday in Morocco, and the feeling I got around the country reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving. Everyone travels to see their families and instead of getting the plumpest, fattest turkey from the store people go to the markets to select a sheep or goat for the sacrifice.
My time in Morocco wasn’t planned, so I initially didn’t even know I was going to be in the country during the holiday. I’d heard people mention Eid a couple of times, but it really didn’t mean anything to me. As the holiday got closer and I was still in the country it began to seem imperative that I find something to do.
While on a day trip out of Marrakech I struck up conversation with a woman working at a gift shop. She asked what I was going to be doing for Eid, but it hadn’t been a factor in my trip, so I wasn’t planning on doing anything.
Since it was apparent to her that I didn’t have anywhere to go for Eid she invited me to her family’s house in a town a few hours away. I couldn’t believe her generosity. I’d only known her for five minutes, but she didn’t want me to be alone on such a big family holiday.
Since I’m not Muslim I didn’t really see the big deal about not celebrating the holiday with anyone. I would just continue my travels around the country exploring different cities. Then I learned that, similar to Thanksgiving in the US, everything shuts down during Eid and many of the cities clear out as people return home.
I thoroughly enjoy traveling on my own, but the prospect of sitting alone in a hostel with nothing to do in an empty city while everyone else in the country was with their families didn’t seem like the best idea.
I decided to go back to the surf camp where I started my time in Morocco. I could be around people I know and hopefully gain a better understanding of what Eid is all about.
I went to the Supratours station to buy my bus ticket, and my Eid plans were set.
Not so fast.
It turns out I was confused about when Eid actually started (I kind of still am), so instead of getting to Tamraght the night before Eid I would arrive there the night of. In spite of my efforts I would still wind up in the situation I tried to avoid, alone in Marrakech during Eid. I was so upset.
Eid in Marrakech
The morning of Eid came, and I didn’t know what to do for the day. Luckily my hostel, Rodamón Riad, serves free breakfast, so I was able to eat there, but what else would I eat that day if everything was closed?
After breakfast I talked to Simo, who works at the front desk, about Eid and how it’s celebrated. He explained that it starts in the morning with prayers and sacrifice of the goat or sheep. The King will do his first, after which the rest of the country will follow in their own homes.
It must be done in a particular way to minimize the suffering of the animal. The meat is then prepared, and a feast is served later in the day. The remaining food is shared with others in the community who may not have had a meal.
He said that young people have started a tradition of watching scary movies on Eid. Since the streets are deserted it gives the cities a kind of eerie feel, which is the perfect backdrop for watching horror films with the family.
He also told me that in the smaller cities and villages on the day after the feast people will put on the cleaned and dried skins of the sheep and goats and parade through the streets, sort of like Halloween.
I was learning so much and thoroughly enjoying our conversation. Maybe Eid wouldn’t be such a wash after all.
The night before I’d gone out in Marrakech with one of the other girls in my room, Mame from Senegal. She now wanted to go to Gueliz, the new town in Marrakech, to try to find food.
When we left the hostel to find a cab we were met with a VERY different scene than I had ever experienced in Marrakech. On Eid it was actually quiet. Quiet! In the Marrakech medina! I didn’t even know this was possible.
No one was yelling. Nobody was trying to get you to come into their store. There were no donkey carts or mopeds. Everything was closed. All we saw were kids playing in the alleys and little fires here and there roasting hooves and horns.
Even once we found a cab there were hardly any cars on the road. What a switch.
We got to the shopping center in Gueliz that Mame suspected would be open, but it was closed. There was, of course, a Starbucks that was open for business, but we needed food.
We were both pretty hungry by now and fortunately saw one restaurant that was open. I ordered couscous poulet and couldn’t wait to dig in. Mame wanted an Eid meal, but all they had was chicken.
I felt terrible. Here I was about to enjoy my meal, and Mame, who actually celebrates Eid and was away from her family went without.
Just then Awa, a woman from Senegal who works at the hostel, called Mame. She invited Mame over to eat with her family so she wouldn’t be alone on Eid. Mame invited me with her, so we took a cab to the family’s apartment.
We were immediately welcomed with wide open arms. We all sat around chatting while the food was being prepared. Everyone was from Senegal, so I kept up the best I could while they were speaking French but was lost when they switched in and out of Wolof.
The food was ready and served on a large circular dish from which everyone eats with their hands. Before we started eating one of the women of the house pulled me to the side and offered me a fork.
I was so moved. She knew I was out of my element and wanted to make me feel more comfortable. I really appreciated the gesture, but if everyone else was going to eat with their hands I would eat with my hands as well.
Everyone dug in, and the food was SOOOOO GOOOOOD!!!
Oh my goodness. I can’t even put into words the tenderness of the meat and the perfection of the seasoning. It was all so much better than I could have ever expected. Lamb, onion, homemade french fries. Everything was out of this world.
As we sat around talking again after the meal I felt awash with gratitude that this family allowed me to be included in their celebration.
I needed to get my things together for the bus to Agadir, so Mame and I prepared to leave. In such a short period of time I already felt like I belonged with this group of people.
Even traveling on Eid was much different than other bus trips I’d taken in Morocco. Much like traveling on Thanksgiving or Christmas day there were a lot less people on the roads and on the bus. There was a definite calm throughout the country.
Eid in Tamraght
When I arrived at the camp in Tamraght that night I learned that the Moroccan staffers had the day off, so I wouldn’t have been able to spend Eid with them anyway. It turns out being stuck in Marrakech had really worked out for the best.
The next day I enjoyed hearing how others spent their Eid and celebrated with their families. In Tamraght instead of waiting for the king to do the sacrifice first they wait for the Imam.
I also learned that observance lasts for more than just one day, and many places will be closed for up to a week as people continue to spend time with their families.
Later in the afternoon and evening I heard drums and other music throughout the village. Just as Simo described there were people parading in the streets with painted faces and animal hides. It was such a fun, festive atmosphere, and I was once again grateful to have the opportunity to experience it.
From never having heard of Eid al-Adha to being part of a family celebration, it was an experience I won’t soon forget.
**This is my understanding after having only one experience with Eid. Please let me know if there is something I’ve misunderstood.**