I am passionate about renewing the festivals that are important to us so that we celebrate them in a way that is authentic to our unique family values and culture. I have noticed that there are many guides and articles about how Waldorf-inspired families celebrate Christian and/or Pagan festivals but very few about how others mindfully celebrate their family’s festivals and I want to change that.
It is my hope that this journal entry and many more to come will inspire others with similar belief systems to renew, recreate and celebrate this festival in their own way. I also believe it is vital that those who don’t share the same spiritual heritage acknowledge and witness the beauty and goodness in others’ traditions. There is so much to learn and enjoy about our diversity.
Today I share some answers from four mothers from the Whole Family Circle who celebrate Ramadan with their families each in their own unique way. Thank you to Asyeh, Hana, Anke and Ashley for so generously taking the time to share these answers with us.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to the Islamic faith and is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is an annual observance and considered one of the Five Pillars of Islam. According to Anke, “Ramadan is a time for reflection, prayer and starting over. It is a time in which we take stock of our `spiritual health` and try our best to make changes in ourselves for the better. Next to fasting, we will try to increase in performing prayers, spending time in the mosque, gathering with family and friends and spending in charity. In the Qur`an God explains to us the goal of fasting during Ramadan: God consciousness. Ramadan is a time in which we come closer to God and closer to our fellow human beings. Especially in predominantly Islamic countries, normal life really comes to a halt: working hours are adjusted, restaurants and cafes are closed and mosques are overflowing with people.”
Traditionally during the month of Ramadan each day of fasting is preceded by “suhur” -the predawn meal. Participants then fast from the minute the first light appears at dawn until the next iftar. Hana adds, “Ramadan is a time of spiritual renewal where you feel empowered to make the changes you’ve put off the whole year and to make the changes you haven’t felt strong enough to make on your own. The month of Ramadan is a powerful motivator.”
What does Ramadan symbolize and mean to you and your family?
Ashley beautifully explains, “For us, Ramadan is a month spilling over with love, light and family. We bring great ceremony and honor to this month while upholding our most cherished values as they relate to honoring this blessed month.”
For many, Ramadan symbolizes the importance of self control, faith, worship, prayer, appreciation, awareness, charity, patience, kindness, generosity, service and community involvement.
Can you draw a parallel between this festival and the natural world around us? Is there a connection between what is happening seasonally and what this festival symbolizes?
Anke explains that the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar: “The beginning and end of the month of Ramadan is signalled by the sight of the new moon. Some Islamic countries use science to determine exactly when Ramadan will begin but many families actually wait in anticipation to observe the new moon – at which time Ramadan begins the next day. While this might pose some practical problems, (And might be really confusing to outsiders) it does make Ramadan all the more exciting!”
Asyeh compares the transactional system of the natural world (for example, the flowers give their nectar to bees to produce honey and in return the bees pollinate the flowers) to the social transactions that occur during this time. Ramadan is a time where those who have more financial abundance give to those less fortunate and in return they are blessed with feelings of generosity and good spirit.
What beliefs/virtues/values do you hope to bring to light by honouring this tradition?
Asyeh notes the importance of community in the act of giving hence highlighting the strength in “doing things together” as well as the virtue of giving with no expectation of return. Anke says, “Our faith and our connection to God are the foundations on which the rest of our lives are built. As Muslims our faith has a very prominent role in our daily rhythm: we pray 5 times a day and days tend to become naturally structured around these prayer times.” She notes that often work and daily obligations get in the way of regular worship practice and that Ramadan is a beautiful opportunity to bring faith to the forefront of life once more. Modelling these virtues during Ramadan is how adults convey these deeply rooted values and beliefs to their children.
Ashley brings light to these virtues and values at Ramadan:
The month of Ramadan is most known as the month of fasting as those who are healthy and capable spend the entire month 29 or 30 days fasting from food and drink from dawn to dusk.
However, there are so many dimensions to this month and the most important is that the fasting is of all the limbs of the body in order to draw ones heart and mind closer to the Divine, which includes fasting from food as well as actions that are unkind (e.g., back biting, speaking poorly of others)
During this month we work to help those in need by doing acts of charity and good deeds. Feeding others, both fasting Muslims and not, feeding the poor, and helping others to name a few. Ramadan is definitely a time to spread love and works of the heart.
As Muslims, we follow a lunar calendar. So the month of Ramadan starts once we see the Ramadan moon and lasts until the moon of Shawwal enters the horizon. Naturally, the metaphor of light runs throughout the month. The beginnings and ends of or fasts each day are marked by the natural phenomena of the sun and moon lighting or horizon.
One way we have made Ramadan special for or children is we drive to the top of a hill and look for the Ramadan moon as the sun sets to mark the first night of Ramadan.
We also light candles on our seasonal ring the signify the first, second and last ten days of the month which all have special meaning.
Lastly we hang a special lantern, called a Fanoos around the outside of our house and light them when the sun goes down.
During the month of Ramadan, spending quality time with family is even more of a priority. We all wake together early in the morning to eat a predawn meal—even the little ones who are not fasting cannot wait for this. We also share a very special family meal each night when we break the fast.
During this month, I spend a lot of time with my children teaching them traditional meals and cooking techniques in order to connect them to their cultural roots and family traditions. We also invite others to our home, Muslim and non Muslim in order to strengthen bonds of community and family.
Most importantly, we go to special prayers, called Taraweeh, at least one night per week with the children so that we can feel the spirit of the month as a family.
How do you set the scene for Ramadan? Is there anything you do in advance before the first day to mark or model that this time is coming?
Obviously shopping for food, decorations and anything else that will be needed during Ramadan takes precedence. Hana shares that decorating the home has been a family tradition ever since her oldest was about five years old. She very mindfully chose decorations the weren’t religiously iconic, but were relevant to her own family. She decorates with lights, lanterns, banners and each year they add something new. She adds, “New for this year will be a full size chalk drawing in our school room and a Ramadan inspired ‘Nature Table’.” In Egypt where Anke lives, the Ramadan `fanooz` or Ramadan lantern is something almost every home hangs. Islamic Egyptians also decorate streets and homes during the month with many colourful fabrics, delicate patterns and buntings. Asyeh adds that many people recite special prayers (counting the limitless bounties of God in our life) the day before Ramadan and some actually start fasting 1-7 days before in order to honour this special time.
Ashley shares their tradition of creating a Ramadan seasonal table. “We gather items from nature so that we can set up for Ramadan in the context of the season. This year I am contributing to the seasonal table by hand hemming a few plant dyed silks that represent the colors of the moon and night sky. We also have a set of books that are old favorites. We bring out special lamps called fanoos and light them each night.”
Are there any elements of this tradition that are for adults only?
Fasting from the first sunlight/dawn until sunset is part of the practice for adults and youth who are mature enough to endure the hunger but is not obligatory for young children, sick people, people who are traveling (not in their home and environment) and pregnant and nursing mothers. Sometimes older children join in the fasting for a few hours at a time to get used to the concept. Night prayers can be challenging to attend with young children (but not impossible).
How are children involved during Ramadan? What do they look forward to the most?
Anke and her husband have started a `moon spotting` tradition in their family that they hope will continue on through the generations. On the presumed evening before the start of Ramadan they go out a little before sunset and head to an open area where they can clearly see the new moon. They love this exiting new ritual- a wonderful way to mark the beginning of this sacred time of the year.
During the month, children can also assist in setting the table for Iftar (the time to break the fast), offering prayers and preparing meals for those in need. Children also look forward to the day of Eid ul Fitr (one day after the last day of the month. On this day they receive presents and celebrate with the community.
Children enjoy the festive spirit around them during the month- they visit with family more than usual and because of the celebrations often enjoy later than usual bedtimes. Hana says, “The fond Ramadan memories last a lifetime and have a deep spiritual impact on [children], not just because it’s a spiritual month, but because being with family and friends is also a spiritual experience.”
Anything else you would like to share about celebrating with your young children?
In Anke’s words:
Ramadan for us is definitely the most special time of the year and the traditions and activities we do around and in our home are all geared towards one purpose: to cultivate a deep love and appreciation for Ramadan.
Ashley wanted to share a few more of the values associated with Ramadan:
Sighting the moon (natural phenomena)
When we know that Ramadan is literally on the horizon, we drive up to the top of a nearby mountain and scenic overlook and witness the Ramadan moonrise together as a family. We also incorporate a very Yemeni practice that is done during the week leading up to Ramadan usually referred to as “Ya nafs ma tishtahi” which translates to “oh self, what do you desire” –rather, “eat to your heart’s content” 🙂 So, before we leave to do the moonsighting, the boys are able to pick a special treat (with no rules from mama or baba) and eat it while we wait for the moon! Now, you can imagine us on the top of the scenic overlook, tucked under our cozy blanket and like last year munching on classic oreo cookies and a thermos of hot chocolate! It probably one of the best times of Ramadan for me. Click here for more information.
The Days of Mercy, Forgiveness, Redemption and Renewal
The 30 days of Ramadan are split into thirds: the first ten days are the days of mercy, the second ten days are the days of forgiveness, and the final ten days are the days of redemption and renewal. We bring an awareness to this by lighting a candle for each third of Ramadan and talking together about the value for that third. By the end of Ramadan, our seasonal Ramadan ring has three candles lit.
Preparing for Eid al Fitr
In the last few days of Ramadan, we begin preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan which is called Eid al Fitr. During this three day celebration, there are sweets and lots of time spent with family. So, during the last week of Ramadan the boys and I prepare different types of cookie dough. We measure, knead and set aside overnight. Then the next day, the boys roll out the dough and help me shape and cut them into various shapes, or, we stuff and press other traditional sweets. We make several dozen cookies in at least three types. Its fun and a big mess, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
During the nights of Ramadan, you can find people exchanging food to break fasts, taking food to neighbors regardless of faith, and feeding the poor and in need. As a family, we always make more food than what we will need that night to break the fast so that we might share this food with others.
**Ashley May also shares some beautiful thoughts about her own family’s rhythm during the month of Ramadan in the #realmothersdiversevoices post here.