A scene of the whole big family gathering around a long table filled with all sorts of mouth-watering food, while children run around waiting for the cannon to fire, announcing the call of Maghrib prayer, sunset, to end the first day of Ramadan and start a month of similar days; a flashback from the old days that refuses to leave the memory of Abdel Azim, who cannot find similar joy or warmth nowadays, no matter how hard he seeks it.
As Ramadan knocks at our doors, now only a day away, new trends are becoming, and older generations have come to recognise that the spirit of Ramadan is no longer the same as they grew up experiencing it. With that recognition, came along efforts by some to bring back the old traditions they used to practice when they were children in an attempt to revive the atmosphere for their children.
Lighting lanterns and hanging decorations out of balconies, while Islamic chants and Ramadan-welcoming songs are playing in almost every neighbourhood, were some of the staples attached to Ramadan celebrations that are currently rarely found, except in working class districts.
Thirty-six-year-old Abdel Azim tries to revive the holy atmosphere of Ramadan with his children. He does so by decorating his house, getting his children “fawanees” (lanterns), and turning on Quran channels just like he grew up witnessing each Ramadan, yet he admits that he faces plenty of challenges in doing so.
“Nowadays children don’t feel the true spirit of Ramadan; technology has ruined everything, even our feelings towards major events,” he said.
“In the past, we used to await Ramadan for the whole year,” he recalled. “In one month, we would see the whole family gathering around one table, socialising with non-stop laughter. However, nowadays, we just call each other over the phone. So my children do not have the chance to live that spirit and sense it the way me and their mother grew up doing.”
Despite his efforts, Abdel Azim believes that his children, aged 11 and 7, still do not think of the month as bringing any special feelings; “for them, I believe, they find it as a month of boring 30 days with no eating from sunrise to sunset, with the addition that they see their grandparents a bit more than they regularly do,” he explained.
Heba El-Beheiry, 33, walks the same path as Abdel Azim does; exerting tremendous efforts to revive Ramadan’s old traditions for her children in order to make them feel the special nature of the holy month.
In addition to decorating the house a few weeks ahead of Ramadan and buying new lanterns, El-Behiery also insists that they make fawanees themselves.
“I intend to make my 10-year-old daughter do the same things I used to do when I was at her age; we craft shapes of lanterns, do the colouring, and glue them in order to make an actual lantern that we hang in her room, so that she feels like she has put all the effort of creating Ramadan’s decorations,” she said.
Among the El-Beheiry’s musts is taking her daughter along to Tarawih prayers, (Islamic prayers that are only performed at mosques in Ramadan after Isha’ prayers).
From her point of view, Tarawih prayers are the main core of Ramadan that make the month special, and raising her daughter to perform the prayers is one of the essential elements of making Ramadan’s spirit unique and irreplaceable.
“I can admit that she feels the atmosphere of Ramadan and senses its difference, yet at the same time , I feel she is not excited about it as I was when I was at her age,” she added.
Just like Abdel Azim, El-Beheiry believes that the one missing element which brought them ultimate happiness as children is large family gatherings.
“There is no longer this gathering which brings the huge family all in one place,” she explained.
For her part, Salma El-Fawal decided that she is not running towards any modern Ramadan trends and will keep searching for the lost heritage to recreate for her children the same atmosphere that she once felt.
“In an attempt to show my kids a hint of the old Ramadan days, I kept searching for a real fanous [lantern made of brass and coloured glass] from back in the day and got one for each, instead of all the Chinese crap the market is flooded with!” she said.
Meanwhile, Doaa Elsamnoudy decided that the things her children should feel in Ramadan have not changed due to time or place, explaining that she spends the month inviting all of her family and friends to Iftar in order to make gatherings the main theme of the month.
“I do with my children the exact same things my parents used to make me do. I prepare food and we sit all together as a family watching one series that we all agree on. We read Quran just before the Maghrib prayer, just like the old days, and I send my children to distribute food [to those who are in need] at the gate of the compound I live at,” Elsamnoudy said.
She believes that with some extra efforts, families can stay away from the “fake lifestyle” Ramadan has gained over the last years.
“I don’t go out in Ramadan. All places are extremely crowded, ant the food is worse than any time of the year. So, I just stay at home and make the best out of prayers and reading the Quran,” she added.
Halla Elhosainy agreed with Elsamnoudy. Believing that the spiritual side of Ramadan is not connected to time and place, she still does in her house precisely the same things she grew up watching her mother do.
“My mother used to decorate the house with lights and lanterns long before they became so trendy. I still hang them in my house a month before Ramadan, and we turn on the Quran channel the whole time,” she explained. “We stay for weeks ahead of Ramadan playing and singing heritage songs that welcome Ramadan, and TV is only for us as a family to sit and watch a programme together.”