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11 Things You Might Not Know About Eid Al-Fitr

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At the end of June this year, Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Here's what you need to know about the holiday celebrated by over 1 billion Muslims.

1. IT'S HELD TO CELEBRATE THE END OF FASTING.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sun up to sundown to honor the month that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of the month—and the end of the fasting. The prolonged fasting isn't just about food—it also includes abstaining from taking medications, drinking any liquids (including water), smoking, and having sex.

2. THE NAME OF THE HOLIDAY IS A LITERAL TRANSLATION.

"Eid al-Fitr" is a pretty literal translation of the event that's being celebrated: "Festival of the Breaking of the Fast," or "the Feast of Fast-Breaking."

3. EID AL-FITR BEGINS WHEN THE NEW MOON IS FIRST SIGHTED.

Eid al-Fitr doesn't begin until the new moon appears in the sky (although traditionally, and still today for many Muslims, it doesn't begin until the barest sliver of a waxing crescent moon is seen). Technically, that means that across the world, Eid al-Fitr starts at different times and even different days, depending on location. To make it more uniform, some Muslims celebrate Eid when the new moon appears over Mecca instead of their own locations.

4. RAMADAN AND EID AL-FITR ARE HELD ON DIFFERENT GREGORIAN DATES EVERY YEAR.

The Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the solar cycle. New months start and end with each new moon. The average new moon appears every 29.53 days, so the lunar months are a bit shorter compared to the Gregorian months, which usually last 30 or 31 days. Thus, every year, Ramadan is held about 10 days earlier than it was the previous year—at least, that is, in relation to the Gregorian calendar.

5. EID AL-FITR TYPICALLY LASTS FOR THREE DAYS.

The festival traditionally lasts for three days, but depending on how it falls on the calendar, the parties and festivities could last much longer. For example, if the three days fall mid-week, Muslims will likely still be celebrating over the weekend.

6. ON EID MORNING, MUSLIMS CLEANSE THEIR BODIES AND DON NEW CLOTHES.

A Pakistani beautician applies henna on a customer's hand at a beauty salon in Karachi ahead of the forthcoming Eid al-Fitr festival.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images

Before leaving to perform morning prayers, Muslims wake up to cleanse their bodies in a ritual called "ghusl." Then, similar to getting new clothes for Easter Sunday, Muslims often don something new or grab their finest threads and decorate their hands with elaborate henna patterns. Some people wear traditional dress, while others opt for contemporary clothing.

7. THERE ARE EID GREETINGS.

"Eid Mubarak," which means "Have a blessed Eid!," is pretty common.

8. THEN THERE ARE PRAYERS.

After getting dressed and ready for the day, Muslims gather for prayers in mosques or outdoor locations. Afterward, they may visit the graves of loved ones to pray and clean the gravesites.

9. THERE ARE GIFTS INVOLVED.

After a month of sacrifice, Eid al-Fitr is a time of abundance—and not just abundant food. Gifts are often given, especially to children. These gifts of money, accessories, home goods, or flower are called "Eidi."

10. IT'S ALSO KNOWN AS "THE LESSER EID."

Eid al-Fitr is one of two important Eid celebrations in the Muslim faith. The other is Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice or "Greater Eid." Eid al-Adha celebrates the sacrifice Ibrahim (Abraham) was willing to make to Allah. Like Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha is held at a different time on the Gregorian calendar every year.

11. THE WHITE HOUSE HELD ITS FIRST EID AL-FITR DINNER IN 1996.

Though the first iftar dinner—the daily meal that Muslims break their fast with when the sun sets during Ramadan—hosted by the White House happened in 1805 when President Thomas Jefferson held one for the visiting Tunisian envoy, First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted the first official Eid al-Fitr dinner in 1996, and the Clintons continued the tradition every year after. The tradition of hosting Ramadan or Eid dinners has continued with every president since—George W. Bush hosted one every year, and Barack Obama hosted his last one in July 2016.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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arrow
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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
Original image
iStock

Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

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