In 1993, my mother made it a point to enthusiastically celebrate Eid. I was only two years old and she was still settling into her new life in America.
Having left her home, her family, and her friends in Gaza City one year before I was born, my mother found it challenging to publicly maintain her cultural and religious identity, the very same identity already threatened by occupation. She never lost grasp of her religiosity nor did she ever lose sight of her hope for self-sovereignty — a fundamental tenet defining the Palestinian identity — but it became increasingly tricky for her to emulate her Palestinian traditions in her American setting.
At home in Palestine, Eid marks a truly festive time of the year. Fawanees, or colorful lanterns, line the streets. Schools close for the holidays and their grateful students march through the city avenues, singing songs and nursery rhymes throughout the night. Firecrackers go off and family members gather to exchange stories, gifts, and money. Worshipers spill into the streets after Eid prayers and spend the remainder of the afternoon showering one another with kind words and well-wishes.
At home in America, Eid was much quieter. My mother took miniature adventures through Downtown Chicago but had no relatives to visit, no gifts to share, no songs to sing. Father worked long hours so the festivities were normally limited to just me and my mother. Small Arab communities existed and mosques dotted the city’s landscape but they were largely inaccessible or simply undiscovered.
But that all changed in 1993. I was in day care on Eid day when my mother returned to the children’s center and signed me out for the day. She walked and I scurried alongside her to a nearby McDonald’s where I asked her what the special surprise was for. She told me it was for Eid, that Eid is a day to celebrate just like my uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents do in Palestine.
We shared a Happy Meal and made our way to an ice rink. For two hours, my mother held my hand as we went in ovals on the ice.
Exhausted from such an exciting and surprising series of events, my mother took me home and tucked me in. I fell asleep in a celebratory mood just like the children in Gaza do during Eid.
That night, my mother vowed to celebrate Eid and any other culturally- or religiously-significant event with purpose. After all, a hidden or underrepresented identity is a lost identity.
Today, eighteen years later, we celebrate Eid with the same vigor although the experiences are slightly modified. Every Eid brings with it another ounce of the traditions my mother left behind in Gaza. The festivities are no longer restricted to just ourselves. Stories like this one are exchanged. Relatives are called, friends are visited, prayers are made, songs are sung, and sugar-topped date-filled pastries are handed out to whoever wants to physically taste culture and tradition. If we can’t celebrate in Palestine, we’ll let Palestine celebrate here.
Eid represents more than just the Muslim faith. Among other things, it represents colorful lights, laughing children, and a large portion of the Palestinian identity that my mother spent the last two decades preserving and uplifting.
Eid mubarak to all, from Palestine to America and everywhere in between.
This post is dedicated to my mother. This story is especially empowering in that it reveals the true individual strength and willpower my mother exhibits. She instills in us all the love for our culture, religion, and ethnic background. Being Palestinian, even in America, is not just a label; it is a way of life that we must embody. From the most humble of beginnings, my mother’s independence, strength, and faith made her who she is today: a beacon with a guiding light on one side, a waving Palestinian flag on the other, and a foundation of Palestinian and Muslim traditions standing tall on American soil.