Happy Eid in Vancouver

Photo by courtesy of Sarah Zafar

Muslim festival Eid ul-Fitr is little celebrated in Vancouver, but Sarah Zafar and her fellow volunteers are aiming to change that. On June 17, they are organizing Vancouver’s first ever Eid ul-Fitr Festival. It’s Muslim tradition with a Vancouver twist.

This is one of the Islamic celebrations [for] all Muslims around the world. It’s a joy, just like we have Chinese New Year, Diwali and Christmas here,” says Zafar, an Afghani who moved to Vancouver after a childhood spent in India. “Every Islamic country celebrates it, but then every celebration adds a bit of local culture to it.”

The festival, which mixes Afghan and other traditions will be held at the Royal Palace Hall in Burnaby. Members of the public and local Afghan communities are all welcome.

Balloons and bolani

Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset to honour the publication of the Koran.

“People celebrate because they devoted themselves to God in a spiritual way,” explains Zafar. “They fasted and they obeyed. So they deserve a celebration now.”

Like many holidays, though, there are local traditions and differences.

“Everybody will have a different story about Eid,” Zafar says. “What did they do. What did Eid mean to them.”

A Western Eid ul-Fitr, for example, is different than the ones that Zafar experienced as a child.

Mehndi henna designs. | Photo by courtesy of Sarah Zafar

“Everyone hugs and says ‘Eid Mubarak,’ which means ‘happy Eid,’” she says. “We give money pockets to the kids. Every child gets money. But here it’s better to give a gift; it’s wrapped, so kids like to open it. And usually kids here don’t go to the stores at all, except with their parents. So here in the West, when Eid comes, parents usually buy gifts for their children.”

The Eid ul-Fitr Festival 2018, designed by Zafar and four fellow members of the Afghan Community Volunteers, has maintained this holiday flexibility by including Western elements with traditional Afghan ones. According to Zafar, the festival will provide cotton candy, face painting and balloon animals.

“We have piñata games. We’re playing hot potato. [But] there’s henna available. We have a lot of traditional Afghan cuisine. Bolani is one of the stuffed Afghan cuisine; you put potatoes in it, and onions and then you fry it. It’s stuffed dough, fried,” she says.

Zafar explains that Eid, as a festival, is new for many Muslims who remember quieter celebrations.

“We used to go to each other’s houses. And we have [a significant number] of Afghans in India. It took time to go to each other’s houses and stay for tea or lunch or dinner. That’s what we Afghans do; we go to each other’s houses,” she says.

Here in Vancouver, though, Zafar and her fellow volunteers wanted their children to experience the holiday with others.

“We said ‘What about the kids now?’ A lot of kids do their best to fast. I really want [my kids] to be hanging out with other kids and to enjoy it,” Zafar explains.

A better life

The five volunteers in charge of the Eid ul-Fitr have different childhood experiences both of Eid and of immigration.

“I grew up in New Delhi. My grandfather sponsored all his children to go there. I was one or two years old. There was a war with Russia, [and] people had to emigrate. In India, we aren’t residents so we don’t have benefits like schooling. We can’t find jobs, unless we have education,” Zafar says.

Zafar is happy she managed to come to Canada.

“We immigrated to Canada for a better life. As an immigrant, you have to go to a country like Canada. They gave us our rights. I’m very grateful,” she says.