Experiencing Moroccan holidays as a foreigner
Morocco is famous for its hospitality, and while major Islamic holidays can be a busy time, the sense of hospitality remains unchanged. If your travel plans coincide with Ramadan or Eid Kbir, understanding a bit more about these Islamic holy days will help you appreciate Moroccan culture and customs more meaningfully. Keep in mind that most Islamic holidays are based on the lunar calendar, so they occur at a different time each year.
Ramadan in Morocco
Ramadan is well-known in the West as a month of fasting: Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunup to sundown. But a part of Ramadan you may not have heard of involves festivities: a holiday celebrating the end of the month – known in Morocco as Eid Seghir – and the joyous family gatherings when the fast is broken at sunset each day. At dusk, Moroccans come together for l-ftour – literally, “breakfast.” Often they gather around televisions to enjoy the Ramadan specials that air each year. As soon as the sundown call to prayer sounds, the difficulties of the fast are forgotten as everyone relaxes and enjoys traditional foods like dates, tea, harira (a delicious lentil and vegetable soup), and specially prepared flatbreads and sweets. When I lived in Morocco, families were always eager to share this meal with me; I was in a taxi once when the last call to prayer sounded, and the driver gave each of the passengers a delicious, juicy, sweet date so we could all break the fast together. The sense of sharing and community, always strong in Morocco, is especially evident during Ramadan.
If you are traveling in Morocco during Ramadan, you can show respect by eating in private or after dark as much as possible. Schedules will change during Ramadan – many people stay up late feasting and sleep in, if they can – but often establishments that cater to tourists remain open. You may find it easiest to adopt a schedule similar to the locals’: you’ll find that mornings tend to be slow, while cafes and restaurants remain open and lively late into the night. Above all, Ramadan is a time when Moroccans fast to practice self-control and to express solidarity with those who are hungry, and feast to celebrate family and friends – and it’s wonderful to experience first-hand.
Eid Kbir in Morocco
Eid Kbir, or “the big holiday,” occurs about two months after the end of Ramadan each year. It commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son – a story that Muslims, Christians and Jews are all familiar with (though in the Islamic tradition, it’s believed that the son Abraham is asked to sacrifice is Ishmael, not Isaac). Each family celebrates by buying the largest ram they can afford, slaughtering it according to custom, and sharing the meat with family as well as those less fortunate. If you’re traveling through Morocco in the weeks leading up to the holiday, you can spot rams being transported in buses, trucks, and even taxis to regional markets throughout the country.
Traditionally, everyone buys new clothes and dresses in their best attire for the holiday, which has a wonderfully festive air. In cities and villages alike, families sacrifice their rams on rooftops or in courtyards, and everyone celebrates outdoors as the smells of barbecuing meat fill the air. This is the biggest holiday of the year: entire extended families return to the countryside where they grew up, and family members working in Casablanca, Rabat, or abroad return to Morocco as well. This means that transportation systems can get overloaded and travel can be difficult in the days leading up to the holiday – so if you happen to be in Morocco during this time, it’s probably easiest to stay in one spot for those days. Greet locals with a celebratory “Mbruk L’eid” and you may even be invited to sample a freshly grilled kebab!