Ramadan is in full swing here in Rabat and throughout the Muslim world and it's the first time that I have gotten to get an up close look at how the holiday is celebrated. Given that the start of Ramadan coincided here with a rather brutal heat wave, I have to say that my first reaction was sympathy! Since the observance of Islam's holiest month requires believers to abstain from food AND water, I couldn't help but keep my own water supply under wraps! It seemed cruel to slug gulps in public.
Naturally though, I was most interested in how this holiday impacts and is celebrated by Moroccan kids. I had always understood the holiday to be a solemn, introspective one so I wondered how families got involved. I decided to speak to various friends in the know, here and back in the US, about what it means to celebrate Ramadan with kids.
The first thing I learned is that, although this year Ramadan will run from early July to early August, it follows the lunar calendar, meaning that every year it is celebrated at a different time. And though it is indeed a time for a Muslim to be meditative, but is also definitely family time...as everyone gathers at home every night to break the day's fast with an Al Ftour, a plentiful meal starting with a traditional Harira soup.
Kids generally do not fast...at least not until after they hit puberty. But in many families, kids will practice observing a fast for a day or part of day. Mouna, a Rabat-based pharmacist and mom of two told me that "younger children enjoy participating and are encouraged to practice their fasting. They enjoy the "grown-up" feeling that they are participating in the special events of the family and the community". Mouna also remembers how her mom engaged her in the celebration by buying her her own Harira pot to cook her own soup...a practice she passed down to her own kids.
Kids can also get involved in spreading charity throughout the month. Like American Thanksgiving, many parents take the opportunity to involve their kids in volunteering, saving money or contributing to food collection drives for the less fortunate. And like the run up to Christmas - parent's also get an extra weapon in encouraging better behavior from their kids, since fighting, gossiping and other naughty list offenses are particularly frowned upon during Ramadan.
The big perk of Ramadan falling in the summer, is that kids get to participate more in the after hours celebrations like the Al Ftour (which starts at sunset and goes late into the night) and the Al S'hour or pre-sunrise meal. Even though they are likely to still be eating normally though out the day, kids love to gorge themselves on classic Ramadan sweets like sellou, made of sesame seeds, almonds and flour.
Seeing how all-encompassing the holiday is here in Morocco, I wanted to ask Amanda of MarocMama how she celebrates Ramadan with her boys in the US. Though recognizing the difficulty of making the holiday relevant and fun in a country where it isn't widely celebrated, Amanda told me that Ramadan is all about what the parents put into it. "If parents are excited and make this a "big deal" then kids will feel that enthusiasm" she told me. "Likewise if it's something to dread, kids will pick up on that too. The important thing for Ramadan in July is to not let it "ruin" summer for them. So many families forego summer traditions when Ramadan lands in summer months - like trips to the pool or summer camps".
Here in Rabat, I can attest that the beaches are still crowded on the weekends and though the streets just before sunset might be less so, a certain degree of calm and serenity has settled over the town. I can only admire the fortitude and forbearance of my friends here who manage to last from sun up to sundown without so much as a cup of tea. And in learning more about how these traditions are passed to the next generation, a previously foreign practice now seems to have so much in common with my own traditions. And really, isn't that what living abroad is all about!