Abraham, to sacrifice his son, on top of the mountain. Abraham, unable to follow the command, slaughtered a sheep instead. Each year, on the tenth day, of the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, a sheep is slaughtered. Thus, the week of l3id l-kbir begins.
l3id l-kbir, or the Big Feast, is celebrated three months after l3id-sgir, the Little Feast. As you may remember, the Little Feast celebrates the close, of Ramadan. Both feast days, are highly significant holidays, in the Islamic world.
Each region, celebrates these feast days differently. In Bouayache, the Big Feast is a grand celebration. Families prepare for months, beforehand. A lamb is purchased and raised into maturity. Often, this animal, compared to its barnyard companions, will be given superior rations, to insure a finer quality.
Days before, women are busy preparing the home. Every bit, of each day, is used. As the celebrations often brings family to visit, women must get everything, in order. Houses, in their entirety, are cleaned. Rooms are prepared and double, as sitting rooms and extra bedrooms. Dozens of cookies and family favorites are baked and stored, to be served later.
Formal dish ware, carpets and blankets are brought out of storage. This finery is passed down from generation, to generation and used, for holidays and weddings. As a special occasion, feast days allow families to celebrate, but also show off a bit.
It is common, for women and girls, to wear beautifully intricate henna, on their hands and feet. Boys oftentimes have henna induced orange circles, on their palms. Some women even use henna, to mark the barnyard animals, particularly the sacrificial sheep. This art acts, as a protection, warding off evil spirits and safeguarding the family, for the holiday.
Men finish work, in the fields. Extra hours are put in, guaranteeing less to be managed, during the holiday. On feast days, men play an important social role, as well as an important role, in food preparation. These roles demand their time therefore, fieldwork is waylaid.
On the day l3id l-kbir begins, families rise early, in anticipation. Women prepare pots of teas and plates of cookies. The communities children, dressed in nice clothes, go house, to house wishing families a happy feast day. The children get a cookie and proceed, to the next house.
Men go to the Mosque in the morning. Tradition states that men must pray and be cleansed before the sacrifice. Also, the King of Morocco, must sacrifice his sheep first. Women, while passing out cookies, watch television broadcasts showing traditional concerts and the Kings sacrifice. Its similar, in a way, to watching the Macy’s day parade.
Knives are sharpened and dishes are readied. If the family has an outdoor courtyard, the act is performed there. If they do not, a place. in front of the home, is chosen. The sheep is brought forth and the sacrifice begins.
A sharp knife slits the animals throat. It is done quickly, efficiently and respectfully. The head and feet are removed and set aside. Men expertly skin the animal, in one piece. The pelt is removed and laid in the sun, to dry.
The carcass is then hung, by its hind legs. The butchering continues, and the organs and intestinal matter is removed. Each organ is valuable and all, but the large intestine is consumed. Once cleaned and ready, the carcass is moved in the home. Often, it is hung in the kitchen. There it stays, until the holiday is over and all has been utilized.
In local tradition, the liver is eaten first. It is boiled and cut into pieces. Each piece, is then wrapped in a strip of fat and placed on a skewer. These kabobs are grilled and served to all guests. This delicacy is the true start, to the celebrations.
The remaining organs are served, over the next several days. Traditionally, on day two it is the brain and the feet. Day three is the stomach and small intestine. Day four is the kidney and lungs. A portion of the heart is served on various days. The remainder is cut into strips, wrapped in pieces of the stomach and hung to dry. Throughout the year, this dried collection often tops meals of couscous, served on special occasions.
Entire lambs are consumed, in days. Sitting rooms play host to extended families and neighbors. It is there, that substantial meals, of spiced lamb, are served and enjoyed by all. These plates rarely, if ever, have a vegetable on them. Dishes, of lamb, are provided to all who enter the home, until a families supplies are depleted.
In keeping with tradition, women and men are separated. Rooms are designated to segregate the sexes. This act of modesty, allows men and women, to socialize undisturbed. With family members and visitors, these rooms were full of laughter and festivities. Men took up their unconventional role of host and catered, to the needs of their guests. While women, very familiar in their roles, served family and friends, with ease.
Globally, food brings people, to the table. l3id l-kbir is no different. It brought family, friends, neighbors and communities together, to celebrate life's blessings. One of which, is abundance. On this feast day, everyone had, not only plenty of food, but plenty of protein. In this society, protein is placed at a premium. Sacrificing a sheep is a gift and a blessing. It literally, fills people with strength. Symbolically, the strength to do Allah’s will. Physically, a bodily strength to continue onward.
Abundance is meant to be shared. Gifts are meant to be shared. Charity is a significant part of the Big Feast. Each family gifts a portion of their bounty, to those in need. Need is a broad term, used to incorporate physical, emotional and spiritual deprivation. This feast day demands you see the needs, in all people.
As a single women, with no family here, people recognized my need, for family. Throughout the week, I received many invitations to peoples homes. Over platters of lamb and kebobs, I was welcomed in, not as a visitor, but as a daughter and a sister. I drank cups of tea, ate cookies and learned about family members. I practiced family traditions, received kisses and hugs. It was nothing short, of an honor, to be a witness, at so many family celebrations.
The holiday season is over now and a lull has set it. Visiting family members have returned, each to their respective cities and towns. Finery has been re-packed and stored for next year. Meals have returned, to the common and reasonably portioned tagine. Children went back to school. Henna has faded off hands and feet. Work has picked up and preparations, for the upcoming olive crop, are underway.
While the feast day is over, it has changed how I see my town. We are a little closer now. A little more like family.
love love love,