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Bringing Sweetness into Religious Routines

With both Ramadan and Easter falling over the same period of time this year, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the importance of sweet foods in celebrating these religious festivals.

Both Ramadan and Lent have similar roots in abstaining for food.

For Muslims, fasting, or Sawm, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Between sunrise and sunset a Muslim is expected to refrain from eating and drinking anything (including water), smoking cigarettes, and having impure thoughts. There is a discipline about Ramadan that holds great appeal to Muslims worldwide - it is not a punishment, but a privilege to mark the Islamic year and look forward to spending time with family and friends.

Breaking the fast with a date

Traditionally Muslims break their fast with a glass of water and a couple of dates. Dates are packed with energy - they are high in fibre, calcium, iron and potassium, but also contain quite a lot of sugar so no more than a couple ore ever recommended.

The fruit itself is mentioned more than 20 times in the Qu’ran, and has symbolic importance to Muslims.

Celebrating Eid with sweet goodness

The great appeal of Ramadan for Muslims - especially the kids - is that the end of the fasting period of marked by three days of festivities. Also known as Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Sweets, this is a time for families to come together, to enjoy plentiful food and drink, to pray, to celebrate.

One of the most pastries at this time of the Islamic calendar is baklava, a sweet pastry that originated in the Middle East and has been adopted in various forms by different countries around the world - most notable being the Greeks and the Turks.

The traditional baklava is a tray bake of layers of sweet filo pastry, layered with chopped nuts, pistachio, and drizzled with lashings of syrup. There are many variations, but however you prefer it, they go down very well with a strong coffee in a roomful of family, friends and neighbours.

Giving up the sugar for Lent

In Christianity Lent starts with Shrove Tuesday, but kids probably understand it more as Pancake Day. Other cultures mark it as ‘Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday. This is the day when much food is eaten prior to abstinence from Ash Wednesday.

Christians tend not to be so strict with their fasting - it is more traditional to give up a favourite food, such as chocolate or alcohol, for the duration of Lent, which is about 40 days. Which is why pancakes, smothered in lemon and sugar or treacle has become such a powerful tradition.

Of course, if you have given up the chocolate for Lent, the goal at the end of Lent is Easter - and one of the joys of Easter is the excuse to feast on piles of chocolate easter eggs, thereby immediately undoing all the good that you might have achieved!

The Easter Egg is more than just chocolate

There is some deep symbolism behind the Easter Egg that can get lost in the over commercialisation of this festival.

The egg actually represents new life, and is a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus. The ritual of boiling an egg, and then cracking it is linked to the sealing of the tomb where Jesus was laid after his crucifixion, and then breaking through those seals as Jesus came back to life. This new life is a symbol of purification, in which past sins are forgiven.

It’s a long stretch to go from the resurrection of life to chocolate Easter Eggs, but it maintains the routines and rituals in the hearts and minds of those who follow the faith.