Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I’m always interested in holidays and celebrations. To me, this is the heart of the people: what makes them happy, what is important enough to stop working for. And who doesn’t like a holiday?  Ebenezer Scrooge, perhaps. There are a few public holidays I’ll mention, although there are probably a lot of other local festivals and celebrations of course, but these are some of the main ones for the nation as a whole.

MAWLID: It’s basically celebrating the birth of the prophet Muhammad. In many places, there are large street parades and festivals, and many people decorate their homes and mosques for Mawlid. It’s also a time for charity and especially sharing food, reading stories and reciting poems about the prophet.

NOWRUZ: Also known as Persian New Year, based on the Iranian calendar going back to the Zoroastrian times. It also coincides with the spring equinox. While the celebrations vary in other countries that celebrate Nowruz, Afghans usually celebrate it for two weeks and includes a number of activities, including a buzkashi tournament. Buzkashi is an Afghan national sport, where is the object is for skilled horseback riders to capture the headless carcass of a goat or calf at full gallop and drop it in a circle or vat to clear it away from the other riders. Not much different from the Thanksgiving Day football game. Clearly, it’s related. My 6-year-old daughter generally wasn’t interested in this game at all, but my 3-year-old son thought this was cool.  People from all over the country gather in the city of Mazari Sharif to celebrate Nowruz, including the tulip festival among the celebrations.  A number of special foods are made at this time, including haft mewa (fruit salad made with 7 different dried fruits), samanak (a sweet dish made from wheat germ), sabzi chalaw (a dish of rice and spinach).

INDEPENDENCE DAY: August 19. They celebrate their independence from British control in 1919.

EID UL-FITR: This is a Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holiday of fasting. There are special greetings at this time, and it’s usually celebrated for three days. They clean out their homes and buy new clothes and special food. There are special prayers to be said for the holiday. It’s a time to spend time with family and friends, and the children usually get special monetary gifts from parents and grandparents.

EID AL-ADHA:  This is a Muslim holiday aimed around the sacrifice of Abraham’s son. People generally wear their best clothes and say special prayers for this as well. People will sacrifice an animal that has to meet certain requirements regarding its age and quality.  Afterwards, the family keeps one part, another part is given to other family members, and the last part is given to the needy. Of course, if you live in an urban setting, you can give money or meat to the needy or organizations that take care of that.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: March 8. This is an official holiday in Afghanistan.  Given Afghanistan’s history under the Taliban, who have a history of violating human rights in regards to women, this holiday must mean a lot. I was really happy to see that it is celebrated here.

Keep in mind many of the Muslim holidays are not based on the Gregorian calendar, but are based on the Islamic calendar. It’s more or less based on the moon position and other things, so these holidays change dates every year. (It’s kind of like how Easter changes dates every year.) 

There are also a number of bank holidays: Earth Day, International Day of Action to Eradicate Global Poverty, United Nations Day, Mount Arafat Day, Universal Children’s Day, World AIDS Day, and Liberation Day.

Next up: Music, Art, and Literature

Wikipedia articles: “International Women’s Day,” “Public Holidays in Afghanistan,” “Mawlid,” “Nowruz,” “Afghan Independence Day,” “Eid ul-Fitr,” “Eid al-Adha”

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