How Saudis mark the first day of Eid Al Fitr: from eidiya to prayers and bamya

While Covid-19 restrictions are limiting gatherings and festivities this year, certain rituals and traditions are still taking place

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Eid Al Fitr began on Thursday in Saudi Arabia, with three days of celebration to follow filled with joy, happiness, family gatherings and lots of sweets, to mark the end of Ramadan.

Muslims in various countries follow different traditions and rituals during the holiday.

But how do those in Saudi Arabia mark this special occasion, and how will the coronavirus pandemic affect the festivities?

Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed perform Eid prayers:

Eid Eve

During the final days of Ramadan, families start to prepare their houses for Eid visits by guests.

This year, gatherings in the kingdom are limited to 20 people but vaccinations against the coronavirus will continue through the holiday, health authorities said last week.

Decorations are hung and houses are cleaned. Sweets are put out and Arabic coffee is prepared.

Many people will lay out their new prayer clothes, ironing and perfuming them with musk and oud – a rich, woody scent made from the resin of the agar tree.

Men often go to the barber shop for a final shave, and you will see long lines of people who will wait for hours for their turn. Owing to Covid-19, this year's situation is different, however, as barbers can only welcome customers for pre-booked appointments.

Hair and nail salons, too, have historically had their busiest night on the eve of Eid, when women rush to get the nicest hairstyle or nail art before ahead of the big day.

In Saudi Arabia, the traditional songs of Eid also play an important role on the eve of the holiday. Many people in the kingdom like to listen to tunes such as the famous Ya Leilet El Eid by Umm Kulthum. This 1939 song resonates with listeners even after 80 years, and is heard in many Arab households on the eve of Eid.

For many, sleeping at all on the night before festivities begin is impossible, and at the first sign of dawn, people get ready for Eid prayers.

Here's how people are celebrating Eid around the world in 2021:

Eid Morning

At around 5am, after Fajr prayers, the rituals of Eid prayer begin.

The actual Eid prayers will be conducted a little after sunrise, however. The mosques will be filled with people of all ages, and nearby plazas – and sometimes even pavements and car parks – will be prepared with carpets to cater for the large number of worshippers.

The scene at the mosques is very colourful, with everyone dressed smartly in traditional clothing, although it's important to note Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing measures will apply this year.

Men congratulate each other wearing masks and keep social distancing to help curb the spread of coronavirus outbreak after they perform Eid al Fitr prayers marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at al-Mirabi Mosque in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Children wear their Eid thobes and dresses, and balloons are strung up everywhere. During Eid, children often receive sums of money – referred to as eidiya – usually one or five Saudi riyals, and will gather excitedly around any person giving out gifts.

Sweets are shared generously.

After the Eid prayer is over, people greet each other at the mosque, saying "Kul Aam wa Antum Bekhair", which means "May you be well and blessed every year", or Eid mubarak, meaning blessed festival.

When leaving the mosque and prayer areas, many people take a different path home to the one by which they arrived, a tradition said to date back to the Prophet Mohammed.

Fatoor Al Eid

Families then gather for the lavish Eid breakfast, called fatoor al Eid, which usually takes place at the grandfather or eldest sibling's house.

The feast contains many special delicacies hailing from Saudi Arabia.

In Makkah and the west of the kingdom, the meal includes various types of cheese, olives and bread, as well as two more essential dishes: debyaza and nady.

Debyaza is a marmalade-like preserve of apricots, nuts and dried dates. Families often send portions to neighbours and in-laws.

Nady is usually made with lamb or goat meat. It can be made in two different ways, either with a red, tomato-based sauce or a white, creamy one. It is served with rice, bread or both.

Muslim women, center rear, wearing masks to curb the spread of coronavirus outbreak, walk on carpets after they performed Eid al-Fitr prayer marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at al-Mirabi Mosque in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

After the family shares more eidiya with the children, there will be games and conversations. In some families, the elder boys will light some fireworks.

Families continue to receive visitors after breakfast, and they also go door-to-door to see their neighbours and friends, a tradition that's called mouayda.

The afternoon and evening

By 10am to noon, many Saudis will take the opportunity to rest after the morning’s activities.

Eid activities continue later, with the Eid lunch. In Makkah, this often includes at least one signature dish: bamya, a stew made of okra and meat.

After lunch, it is time to continue visiting other people at their houses. In each home, it is customary to receive juice, Arabic coffee, chocolates and possibly some tea, if you stay longer.

Children will receive eidiya from everyone they visit and it is possible for some to collect up to 800 to 1,000 riyals by the end of the day.

In the evening, families gather with many of their extended relatives. In the past, it was common to see gatherings reach up to 150 people in bigger families.

At these gatherings, there is a festive atmosphere, with dance, music, games and more eidiya, before dinner is served, which is usually some sort of rice and meat.

While Eid is marked and enjoyed by everyone, it is an especially important celebration for children, as they are encouraged to wear new, brightly coloured clothes, have their hair styled beautifully and receive gifts.