During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the phases of the moon, Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan, a holy month of spiritual reflection and fasting. The fasting period begins at a different time each year based on the moon cycles, but it's usually sometime in April or May.
While fasting may sound like an extreme practice to non-Muslins, this sacrificial blessing period is filled with self-reflection, family celebrations, and late-night meals. If you're celebrating the holiday kids, it's important to instill the traditional Muslim values while also bringing a little fun into the mix. After all, they won't be fasting alongside you until after puberty.
Traditional Ramadan Practices
During the month of Ramadan, people of Islamic faith wake up before sunrise for a small meal and then do not eat again until the sun sets at night. The word "Ramadan" comes from the root word "ramdhaa," which means "intense heat of the sun," referring to the environmental conditions of this calendar season. After 30 days of sacrifice, families hold a three-day celebration of fast-breaking called Eid al-Fitr. Muslim kids often receive gifts and indulge in treats during the festival.
Islamic law states that children who have not yet reached puberty aren't required to observe fasting. Still, some families have their children participate in the fast anyway, or they find other ways to teach their kids about devotion, generosity, goodwill, and self-control. Whether or not your family decides to fast, participates in semi-fasts, or doesn't fast at all, here are some ways for you to honor the holiday with kids.
- Read themed children's books: Children's books, like the book, "My First Ramadan," by Karen Katz, introduce the principles of the Muslin faith to children. Appropriate for toddlers, this board book follows one young boy as he celebrates the holiday with his family. For older kids, the book, "Celebrating Ramadan," by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith also features a young boy and his devout Islamic family, while also explaining the basic beliefs of Islam and relaying the life history of the Prophet Muhammad.
- Decorate your home: Stars and crescent moons liven up Muslim families' homes during this month-long holiday. Engage your children by making your own paper versions for the three-day Eid al-Fitr celebration. Hang white twinkly LED lights in your kids' rooms, so they feel like they're a special part of the holiday. You can also build excitement for Eid al-Fitr by displaying a countdown decoration in your home, similar to a Christian advent calendar. Each day Ramadan progresses, your kids can cross off a number on the calendar.
- Teach children Ramadan greetings: During Ramadan, faithful Muslims greet one other by saying "Ramadan Mubarak." This greeting, which means "blessed Ramadan," is just one traditional way that people welcome friends during this holy time. You can add some fun to chance encounters by teaching your kids a more eloquent salutation like "Kul 'am wa enta bi-khair," which means, "May every year find you in good health." Giving your kids a repertoire of greetings at a young age allows them to take part in more adult-like discourse, while also teaching them values they will cherish for a lifetime.
- Involve children in meal preparation: Cooking as a family creates the perfect backdrop for discussing all things Ramadan. Plus, it teaches your children how to prepare traditional dishes at the same time. Ask your kids to help make the meal each night during Ramadan, even if it means staying up past their bedtime. The memories they'll form while cooking traditional Ramadan recipes create an anticipated excitement knowing they had a hand in feeding the hungry family.
- Celebrate Girgian: Halfway through Ramadan—on the 13th, 14th, or 15th night, depending on the moon cycle— Muslim kids dress up in costumes or traditional garb and go door to door collecting candy and money from friends and neighbors. The celebration is called Girgee'an, which means "a mixture of things," and it's similar to trick-or-treat celebrated on Halloween. Teach your children traditional songs to sing along their journey or hold a private Girgian party by inviting other Islamic families over to your house, exchanging gifts, and then breaking the night's fast together.
- Instill Ramadan-inspired values of giving: Encourage your children to provide a service for others by saving money for the needy during the month of Ramadan. And make it a family affair! For instance, take the money you'd spend on a cup of coffee each day and plop it into a jar, showing your commitment to your children's cause. Together, create a food bank mobile that hangs over the donation jar as a reminder. Then, at the end of Ramadan, use the money to buy food and donate it to the local food bank.
- Enjoy a festive Eid Al-Fitr. Otherwise known as "Eid," Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan with a multi-day celebration that includes gathering to view the new moon, neighborhood fairs, visits to amusement parks, and eating special sweet treats. Decorate both your home and your bodies by letting the kids paint traditional henna designs on their hands (or you can do it for them). Draw names from a hat for a night of gift-giving where handmade gifts and new clothing is always welcome. Culminate the celebration with a picnic or backyard barbecue, complete with legal fireworks. Maybe even invite some non-Muslims to your party so your kids can take part in their traditional family celebration alongside friends (while also teaching them ancient customs).