Ramadhan, Eid, Easter and Christmas; there are many shared traditions and customs that exist in the communities of the Cape Flats despite diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.
Easter and Ramadhan are approaching and I am reminded that in Cape Town, feast days for the communities who practiced their religions, are also days of sharing with their relatives, friends and neighbours of other faiths.
With Easter approaching, I have been thinking about the many meals we enjoyed at the homes of my Aunts on Good Friday including Cape Malay Pickled Fish and hot cross buns, Mummy Rachel’s tuna tart and fish cakes, Aunty Betty’s fish pie, Aunty Norma’s seafood paella. You can read the story behind Cape Malay pickled fish and find my recipe here.
On Easter Sunday the lunch feast included roast leg or shoulder of lamb; Aunty Josie’s crumbed lamb chops and steak and kidney pie; roast or chutney chicken; chicken or lamb curry; Mummy Rachel’s chocolate cake and cheesecake. Every now and then a new addition to the family would surprise us with something different.
During the celebration days of Christmas and Easter, we joined our Christian relatives to share meals and give gifts. Although not our religious festivals, we never felt excluded when they exchanged gifts. I often wondered about that, and realized that that was how my mother and her siblings were raised. Kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity were not limited to certain people at specific times of the year. They all had children, so every child was included. Even now my cousins still buy gifts for my nephews and nieces despite the fact that the family Christmas get together has all but disappeared.
My father who loved a bargain, could never resist buying Easter eggs, especially if they were marked down on Easter Sunday or Monday. It didn’t matter that we don’t celebrate Easter. My mother’s family does, so he would go out and ensure that every child received a special Easter egg. I must admit, I never liked the taste of Easter eggs and the fact that they were empty shells. I was ecstatic when we were older and my aunts started giving us Cadbury chocolate bars instead!
As observant Muslims we partake of the month of fasting during Ramadhan. Ramadhan tradition was that wives, mothers and daughters (and occasionally menfolk) prepare sweet and savory snacks and send the children out to deliver plates of these little treats to the neighbours before the time for Iftar (breaking the fast). The men of the house who attend mosque for the prayers carry parcels of the same treats to share with the other worshippers. The iftar snacks often included Daltjies, Cape Malay Pancakes with coconut and Bollas.
To mark the middle of Ramadhan they also send out jugs of steaming Boeber made with vermicelli or lokshen, milk, sago; spiced with cinnamon and cardamom and sweetened with sugar and condensed milk. In Dubai where expatriate neighbors hardly see each other and seldom even know each other’s names, this tradition is sorely missed.
During the festival days of Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha, the doors are open for all to convey their congratulations for the completion of the mandatory fasting and commemoration of Hajj, respectively. The children of the neighbourhood are welcomed with cookies, chocolates and little gifts of money. Families pay their respects and share meals with their neighbours and friends, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Over the years I have come to realize how intolerant we have become as a people in the name of cultural or religious beliefs and practices. I was raised by kind, generous parents who encouraged the building of goodwill in the community without compromising our beliefs.
Do you have any local customs or traditions for the holidays? Please share them with us in the comments.
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This was first published on 27 March 2015 and has since been updated.