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Sweet endings ...
Mimouna, Eid al-Fitr & Easter Sunday
The tradition of feasting and fasting connects Passover, Ramadan and Easter. Throughout all the festivals we celebrate the significance of customary foods, ending in the sweetness of culinary rejoicing.
On the last evening of the Passover, the Sephardi and Maghrebi Jewish communities originating from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsular, begin celebrating Mimouna and the return to eating leavened foods after a week of abstinence.
A relatively recent practice, the exact origins of this cultural celebration are scarce, despite the many credible explanations. Some attest that it marks the anniversary of either the birth or the death of Rabbi Maimon Ben Yosef, father of the Moses Ben Maimon, more commonly known as Maimonides, the most influential Jewish Sephardic rabbi, philosopher and physician of the Middle Ages, in both the Jewish and Islamic worlds. Others declare that the name of this festivity is derived from the Arabic meaning prosperity and good fortune, and that it is the way of celebrating the new agricultural year in the hope of fruitful harvests. There is also the school of thought that Mimouna comes from the Hebrew word ‘emunah’ meaning faith or belief and that this is a celebration of the Israelites redemption from Egypt and the future for the Jewish people.
Mimouna is a Moroccan tradition and widely celebrated in Israel by those of Moroccan and North African descent, involving opening your doors to family, friends and neighbours to feast on Moroccan pastries, cakes and sweetmeats as a sign of richness and wealth. It was customary for the Arabic community to keep the ‘chametz’ during the Passover for their Jewish neighbours and return it to them afterwards to make the sweet treats. Traditional foods include mofletta, thin, crepe-like yeasted pancakes served with lashings of butter and honey, marzipan sweetmeats, stuffed dates, chocolate decorated cookies and yeasted cakes, and all kinds of sweetsmeats served on a beautifully decorated table with pots of refreshing mint tea.
Eid al-Fitr is a religious holiday that celebrates the breaking of the month long fast of Ramadan. It is also known as the ‘Festival of Sweets’.
As with Mimouna, the origins of the Muslim festival Eid al-Fitr are also speculated, but without doubt, the Prophet Mohammed started this festivity. It is thought that having received the first revelation of Holy Quran during Ramadan, Prophet Mohammed initiated the indulgence of feasting and rejoicing to celebrate the end of the fasting.
Eid al Fitr is a time for communal prayer, giving of charity, the wearing of new clothes and exchanging gifts of food and sweets. Homes are decorated and large tables are beautifully set and laden with fragrantly spiced savoury dishes and handmade breads followed by the traditional spread of yeasted doughs, creamy desserts, mammoul cookies stuffed with dates, nuts and warm spices, sweetmeats drenched in honey and flower syrups and the traditional Eid biscuits made with a ghee pastry and generously filled with pistachios, sesame seeds and honey.
Easter Sunday has long been associated with a celebratory lunch and the giving and receiving of Easter eggs, a common tradition during the Spring season of Eastertide.
A recognised Pagan symbol of rebirth and fertility, Christians believe the egg also denotes the empty tomb of Jesus Christ and the reminder of his new life after his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Eggs were also thought to be widely consumed throughout Easter to make up for abstaining from eating them throughout Lenten in Medieval times. Eggs were then blessed by the priests before being eaten again.
Egg decorating, egg rolling, egg hunts and egg dances have all been traditional, international pastimes at Easter, however it is long-established custom of the chocolate Easter egg that delights the most, and has become the modern way of celebrating. Chocolate hollow eggs were first painstakingly crafted from moulds in the early 1900’s by the Fry family, with John Cadbury making his first dark chocolate Easter egg in 1875. With Cadbury’s launch of dairy milk chocolate in 1905 saw the advent of the milk chocolate Easter egg, which is the customary gift today, often covered in silver or gold wrapping and filled with sweets and truffles.
It is not often that Passover, Ramadan and Easter all fall at the same time, a coincidence that connects culinary traditions with each faith and a commonality in their significance. All three festivals are linked by the neutrality and diversity of food, inclusivity at the table that ends with the sweetness of feasting to bring prosperity and good fortune to all.
To all those who are celebrating… enjoy!