Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 Nov. - 4 Dec. 2002
Issue No. 614
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Ramadan with a global touch

Ramadan, the nation's longest holy season, has always had its festive side. But now the glamourous side of the month is finding its way into home decoration, says Nesmahar Sayed

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Ramadan lanterns and flags of khyamiya decorate the home interior
Ramadan lanterns sit proudly over the buffets and adorn the tables in the corners of the house. Flags made of Khyamiya (colourful tent fabric) grace the reception area and line the walls. A big fanous greets you at the entrance of the house. The scent of bokhour (incense) pervades the place and candlelight enhances the festive mood, evoking the romanticism of Fatimid times.

Safwa El-Sarky, a computer engineer living in Mohandessin, has been trying her hand at Ramadan decorations for the past three years. When you enter her home you are instantly greeted with the colours and shapes of the season. This is not a home that takes Ramadan lightly. There is a mix of effort and innovation in the way decorations are selected and displayed, and a warmth that only a blend of spirituality and celebration can muster. The decoration begins with the advent of Ramadan and stays on throughout the month, displayed with pride, and improved upon with the help and inspiration of family and friends. Safwa admits that she took the idea of decorating the house in Ramadan themes from her sister Yosr, who lives in Maadi.

"We decorate our home for Christmas and, as Muslims, we decided to take the idea a bit further," Yosr said. Most of the Christmas themes can be adapted to the Ramadan spirit, the lighting, the symbolic decorations, and the colourful atmosphere. Mai Ramadan, a friend of Yosr, popped the question first: "Why don't we decorate our homes for Ramadan too?"

Another inspiration was the changed form and lifestyle seen in Cairo streets during the month-long of religious and not-so-religious festivities. Hotels, restaurants and coffee shops all improvise constantly with Ramadan decorations. It was only a matter of time before the decorative touch went into homes.

Yosr went to Taht Al-Rab' and Bab Al- Khalq and bought khyamiya fabric, and started her experimentation with the Ramadan theme. This was four or five years ago. "I hung beside them the old Egyptian flag, the green one with the crescent and the three stars, and scattered lanterns of various shapes at different places in the house."

In time, ideas developed and the decoration became more elaborate. Last year, Yosr hired tabali, the traditional low round tables still in use at villages and conventional homes, and covered them with khyamiya cloth. In the middle of each tabliya, she put a lantern with a candle. "This was for a suhur (Ramadan supper) invitation for my friends," Yosr recalled with a smile.

Safwa's decorative endeavours are more moderate. She wanted a visual touch of festivity to go with the religiosity of the month, the fasting, prayers, and readings from the Qur'an.

Ramadan has a strong social side to it, for it is the month when families tend to get together the most, for meals as well as entertainment. It feels different, and it deserves to look different. "I like to feel the month differently and to bring home some of the atmosphere of Ramadan that appears in the restaurants and coffee shops. I am not a person who goes out a lot in Ramadan," Safwa remarked.

Decoration begins in earnest a day or two before the start of the holy month. With practice, the themes became clearer and some are quite simple to implement. "I know where I want to put all the decorations," Safwa said.

Safwa and her children, who enthusiastically join her in setting up the Ramadan decorations, know what they want, a colourful house that announces the month and celebrates its extra-ordinariness; they fiddle constantly with the ideas, taking them a step further every year. Every year brings its own elements of surprise, its own addition to the visual festivity. "This year, small lanterns were placed in the corners of the house. The dining room is now lit mainly by lanterns," Safwa said. She has splashed glitter over the khyamiya flags, making them more eye- catching than they normally are. This is all done on a modest budget. Safwa and Yosr recall that the expense of Ramadan decoration for the first year they started the trend was under LE100. The accumulation of paraphernalia from one year to another keeps the cost manageable and the homes vividly Ramadanesque.

"Every year, we change places of the decorations or just buy new things instead of the old ones," Yosr Said. But this is not done at random. Both sisters are careful to reconcile the Ramadan theme with the space and original decoration of the house.

Marwa Ali is another Ramadan amateur decorator. "My children grew up and began to appreciate the aesthetics of Ramadan. They expect to see something special every year," she said. This decorative trend, she reveals, has its basis in schools as well. According to Marwa, her children's school is celebrating the occasion of Ramadan this year for the first time. Kourisha (crepe paper) flags and khyamiya have been hung on the walls and on poles all over the school. Things like these, she says, make the children relate better to the atmosphere of Ramadan, even though they are too young to fast.

And once the ideas start flowing, it is hard to stop them. Yosr's friend, Mai, has just started a new tradition this year. She invented a Sheikh Ramadan, a persona along the lines of Father Christmas, and gave him the task of delivering nuts and sweets to children, wrapped in the old Egyptian flag. Not to be outdone, Yosr is thinking about using the lanterns hanging above her children's beds as a surprise holder of eid gifts and kahk (cakes).

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