When I was growing up, Eid in Karachi was a dramatic affair: heaps of food and the menu prepared days in advance; outfits altered and pressed, waiting on hangers; relatives spilling spontaneously through our doors. Somewhere along the way, things changed. My father’s mother passed into the light and our extended family splintered. I left Pakistan for many years and then unexpectedly returned, transformed in subtle but significant ways.
Now, we celebrate differently. My parents go off on a trip, choosing to take a break from their commitments – which holidays more often than not bring more of – and focusing instead on themselves. I am left to my own devices with our German Shepherd to keep me company. Lit up but shut down, the city offers no distractions. I restrict myself to the house, listening to the echo of my own footsteps, the clanging of my single glass against my single plate.
Typically, I make myself pancakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and read long into the night. It’s a solitude I have started looking forward to, a rite of my own. That’s the magic of a staycation: you build a haven in the heart of the place you usually want to escape from. It’s a way of re-centring your relationship with your surroundings, learning to appreciate what you have always had around you.
Holidays can be stressful to many people for many reasons: they mark the passage of time, and can be painful if you’ve lost someone close to you, or lonely if you find yourself newly arrived in an unfamiliar place. In certain places, holidays are stressful for entire communities, especially when Muslims are in the minority and have recently felt targeted or under threat. They can also bring obligations that are frustrating or even unpleasant, and consistently impossible to escape. A friend of mine says that since turning 25 she feels apprehensive as Eid approaches. She is the eldest unmarried woman in her family, and being surrounded by married cousins who are both younger and older makes her feel like a misfit.
Not everyone has the freedom to rewrite a holiday according to their own playbook, but where possible it is a privilege never to take lightly. Eid has a tendency to rely heavily on familial institutions, which are not always safe spaces for everyone. Holidays are occasions to reconnect, but there are just as often occasions that reiterate what is broken. There are infinite spaces we can create, where refuge can be sought, and where both the idea of celebration and the definition of community can take on new forms.
I have found, delightedly, that it is possible to uphold tradition in ways once unimaginable. I miss the camaraderie of the gatherings my parents used to host, the cousins who have moved away. And nothing I dream up in the kitchen can rival my mother’s crème caramel. But someday, I will miss this too: the candles and the jazz, this days-long pyjama party I have taken it upon myself to throw.
Eid is long this year – we will have four days off, followed by the weekend. It will be hot, too. Thirty-five degrees Celsius on average – a heatwave notice has already been issued for Karachi. I’ve decided to change things up. The day before the holiday begins, I’ve found myself weaving in and out of a string of tiny stores that sell computer hardware, searching for a second-hand projector to buy.
I will have heaps of friends over, and we will shine the Before trilogy on to the ceiling. We will watch it while lying on our backs and munching on homemade caramel popcorn and samosas that we have agreed we will make from scratch (an odd combination, but one that feels true to my neither-here-nor-there tastes). My friends can hide away with me for as many days as they like.
In the mornings, we’ll drive down to the beach and run along the sea, get scalding drive-through coffee for the way home. We shift as our lives go by, change shape. The ways we choose to celebrate the centrepieces of our years should be allowed to shift too. The pressure to repeat memories made long ago is not one we need, amid the clatter of so much else. And besides, reinventing the wheel is heaps of fun. Next year, I’ll be in a new city, with new people. It will be time for a new tradition, yet again.
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