Family! A perfect topic of the month as I have spent the summer in Jordan. We’ve celebrated two Eids (Muslim holidays) during this time. I’ve ruminated a great deal about the importance and blessing of a large extended family.

Muslim families are a bit different than those in the US.  A typical family in America might include parents, children, maybe grandparents, and a prerequisite number of pets. Our family in Jordan consists of grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins. They all meet quite regularly but particularly so on Eid.  Ages span from octogenarians down to the newest edition, who this year is two and a half.

On Eid morning, adults and children wake, dress in their best and often newly acquired clothes and head off to a morning prayer held in every mosque.  Communities pray together then listen to a short sermon, dispersing afterwards with hugs all around and greetings of Salaam and Kul ‘am wa antum bikhair, wishes for peace and prosperity in the year to come. Candy and other treats are distributed to all the children; so cute and excited, dressed in all their Eid finery.

Then it’s off to breakfast followed by mega visiting! The menfolk gather together and set out to visit the women in their families: their mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins. Women make ready their guest rooms, prepare special cardamom-flavored Eid coffee, set out traditional Arabic sweets (still often made by hand) and chocolates, dress in long flowing caftans and await their male relatives. The visits are short and sweet but a welcome tradition if only long enough to wish Eid Mubarak, partake of coffee in small demitasse cups and of course sample the sweets. Then it’s off to the next home. This continues until the noon day prayer.

After prayers, the entire extended family meets at one home for a large lunch.  Everyone is dressed in their Eid best and the mood is festive.  Eidain (money) is given out to the children. You can hear them excitedly comparing their various totals with one another. Our family number exceeds forty members as the babies seem to keep coming.  It’s a marvelous mix of the old, the young and everyone in between: KG, high school and college grads, the married and the newly pregnant, and cousins.  All are delighted to buddy up and play, compare notes about colleges or discuss politics and religion.  Kids are forever scampering through the house, running in and out. It’s confusing and heady but somehow the barely controlled chaos is delightful.

What affects me the most lately are the elderly. This year, several canes stacked in one corner testify to our increasing longevity but also the common illnesses of age and beginnings of dementia. Having the elderly among us is a gift. We can’t ignore where we’re all eventually headed. Perhaps seeing them in their various stages of decline helps us better prepare for our own sunset years. I realize anew the importance of eating well, exercise and maintaining good mental stimulation.

I am ever touched at the tenderness and joy with which the young serve the elderly. Adult children of aging parents firmly believe that caring for them leads to a beautiful door in Paradise. Mothers are held in particularly high esteem in Muslim cultures. As difficult and often heartbreaking it is to see your once strong and confident parents returned to a more childlike, dependent state, my relatives here attend  them with grace, patience and the affirmation that ‘they cared for me when I was young’. Nursing homes are still a relatively rare phenomenon in the Muslim world.

I watch as our young dutifully offer cheeks to be kissed. It warms my heart to see the genuine hugs and love the young men and women offer their older relatives.  Today, traditions are changing as young men lend more helping hands, offering to clean up and serve the coffee, tea, sweets and fruits that follow the large lunch.

Evenings consist of yet more visits to other extended family members. This schedule will continue for another 3-4 days. Adult children living abroad will do their best to return home for Eid. Since I am able to visit here only in summers, it’s a treat to catch up with those who live far away. By the 3rd or 4th day we have drunk enough coffee and tasted too many sweets.  But much like the cardamom-flavored coffee, these Eid days with family add a beautiful spice and zest to life.