New Youth Traditions and Poverty Color Bangladeshi Celebration of Eid


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DHAKA, BANGLADESH – Husna Begum, 32, an energetic woman with a fair complexion and dark black hair, works as house help in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. But she says she dreams of returning to her home in Mymensingh, a city in northern Bangladesh, to celebrate Eid, a sacred Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. She says she saves every single penny she earns to make this dream come true.

Begum’s son, daughter and relatives still live in Mymensingh. Like thousands of Dhakabashi – domestic workers who live in Dhaka for their jobs – Begum tries to return home for Eid, the biggest festival of the year.

Begum says she has also saved money to buy her children new clothes and accessories for the holiday, when everyone dons their finest.

“I bought dress for my children and waiting to buy some fancy jewelry and a fancy purse for my teenage girl before going home,” she says. “Otherwise, she will be unhappy.”

Today Bangladeshis begin celebrating Eid, the biggest Muslim festival of the year and, for some, the one time of year that they get to see their families. But it’s not celebrated evenly, as some can’t afford the holiday rituals or to take off work. Others say traditions are fading with the younger generation. Still, many say it remains a sacred time for family and friends.

Eid ul-Fitr, popularly known as Eid, is the biggest Muslim festival of the year, according to the Bangladeshi government. More than 80 percent of Bangladeshis practice Islam.

Translating to the “Festival of Breaking Fast,” Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. The three-day holiday, which depends on the appearance of the full moon, spans Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 this year.

Eid is the largest religious festival in Bangladesh and Islam. A three-day government holiday here, Eid is such a rich part of culture that even people of other faiths enjoy the holiday with their Muslim friends.

For most people, Eid means gathering with family and friends. People spend a lot of money purchasing new outfits for themselves and gifts for their family members.

Those who can afford it start shopping for their Eid outfits the first day of Ramadan. Girls and women also get “mehedi,” or henna tattoos, on their hands before the holiday.

ABM Mohasin, who works  for a nonprofit organization, says that families exchange presents and strengthen their bonds during Eid.

“Eid means a lot of expectations, presents for family,” he says. “But these all actually [strengthen] our bondage, and in after Eid day morning prayer, we all have our get-together in relatives’ house. Personal bond[s] become stronger, and we forget all little disagreements.”

Young people say they look forward to shopping for Eid.

“It is always a fun to do window shopping every day for Eid preparation,” Anika Sarwar, a university student, says.

Families also prepare special foods for the occasion.

Samina Atique, a consultant in an international organization, says she looks forward to enjoying food and time with her family.

“To me, Eid means preparing delicious dishes for my family members and have quality time with them,” she says. “Watching TV and gossiping with family in a relax mode is only possible during Eid days. Oh! One thing else, I really enjoy the calm and quiet Dhaka with no traffic!”

This is because so many people leave Dhaka to travel home to be with their families during the holiday.

Television channels broadcast special shows and films to celebrate the festival. So people who work in the service delivery sectors, like broadcast media companies and mobile phone operators, say they will enjoy Eid with their colleagues.

“I have lots of live program during this Eid,” says Nazrul Islam, who works for a private TV channel. “After prayer, I will come to office directly. We have improved lunch here, and it is also uniting us more.”

Others say they also have to adapt their Eid plans based on work or finances.

Tamiz Uddin, 39, a rickshaw puller, says it’s hard to afford holiday luxuries when day-to-day expenses are a struggle. Still, families do the best they can to celebrate the holiday.

“In this high price hike, it is difficult to arrange three moderate meals of a family of six person,” he says. “But still, if not possible to buy for all, certainly I will buy [boots] for my younger son and will have ‘shemai’ before going to prayer.”

Shemai is vermicelli, a type of pasta, mixed with milk and sugar.

Another rickshaw puller, Monju Ali, 23, pulls up next to Uddin.

“I will not go to my home,” Ali says. “Rather will work on Eid and earn double money. After that, will go home for taking rest.” 

Still, he says he may indulge in one holiday treat.

“Maybe have an improved lunch in a street side shop, and that is the only celebration for me,” he says.

Fatima Khatun, 17, a garment worker, says she is worried about how she will shop for Eid gifts for her family because she didn’t receive her salary yet.

“I don’t know how I can go home without salary and bonus,” she says. “All family members are expecting that I will bring some gifts for them.”

Others who want to travel home to be with relatives say transportation causes issues.

Arif Chowdhury, a pharmacist, says he tried to purchase train tickets from his mobile phone for six hours. Unable to purchase the tickets by phone, he went to the station and waited for three hours at the counter to purchase his ticket.

A lack of tickets for people trying to return home for the holiday has been one of the leading news stories every day here. Reports have also cited the rise in ticket sales in the black market as Bangladeshis are desperate to get home.

But other young people aren’t rushing home to see family. Instead, they say they are creating their own holiday traditions.

Daud Ibrahim, a young professional, says that instead of getting together with family or friends, he wants to spend the whole holiday sleeping or watching movies.

A lot of young couples also choose to travel outside of the country during Eid. Thailand and Nepal are the most popular destinations.

Rawshan Ara, 81, says Eid has changed from generation to generation. She says the holiday reminds her of old Dhaka, when families would celebrate not just with relatives, but also with the entire community. She says she used to take a ride in central Dhaka to see the decorative lights on all the buildings for the holiday.

“In our time, Eid means new clothes, delicious foods,” she says“But most desirable memory is after Eid prayer, all came to our home and had ‘kolakuli’ [embracing] and having ‘salami.’ Older persons of the family gave money as a blessing to the younger peoples, and children collected salami from door to door.”

Salami means collecting money. The young people touch the old people’s feet to show respect. In return, the old people give the young people blessings and money.

“If you have time, roam around at old Dhaka during Eid day and [you] will feel the vibrancy,” she says. “You can see people are crossing the roads with new dress and embracing each other, greet each other by saying, ‘Eid.’”

Muhammad Jahangir, her son, agrees that Eid used to be more community-oriented.

“In our time, people of this street went to have Eid prayer together and invite others to join us,” he says. “After prayers, we visit all the houses of our streets and exchange greetings.”

Still, Eid continues to unite people. Jahangir’s daughter and Ara’s granddaughter, Shahreen Haq, says the holiday is still sacred as the one opportunity during the year to see certain relatives.

“I could meet all my relatives at Eid day,” she says. “Especially we have the dinner together to celebrate the day. I also meet some of my relatives only one occasion in a year, and that is Eid. So this is very cherishing, and we all wait for the moment throughout the year.”