Today is Mawlid, the Muslim holiday that celebrates the birth of the prophet Mohammed. The celebration falls in the Islamic month of Rabii Al-Awwal, so the date changes every year with respect to the Roman calendar. This year it coincides with Christmas Eve.
Tunisians traditionally celebrate the day by cooking assida, a custard-y dessert topped with nuts, and sharing it with friends and loved ones. The most popular form of the dish is assida zgougou, which is made with the seeds from an Aleppo pine tree.
On this special day, Tunisia Live took a moment to check in with some Tunisians living abroad and foreigners living in Tunisia to see how they’re planning to celebrate.
Chaima Bizani, who’s studying dentistry in Ukraine, says she doesn’t have much on the docket. “I am currently finishing my exams,” she told Tunisia Live. “In Ukraine we don’t get a day off for Mawlid.”
“In fact, I will have to study tomorrow as well,” she added. “Ukrainians don’t even celebrate Christmas in December.” For many Christian traditions Christmas Day, or the birthday of Jesus Christ, is December 25, but some like the Russian Orthodox Church celebrate on January 7.
Bizani will, however, make an effort to mark her own culture’s special day. “I will be fasting,” she said. “And I am planning to prepare some of the famous assida if I have spare time.”
Rabeb Othmani, a Tunisian IT engineer living in Britain, makes a point of celebrating Mawlid every year. “My ritual is to invite my friends over to prepare and enjoy assida together,” she told Tunisia Live. “Last year for example, I celebrated Mawlid with two of my dearest British atheist friends.”
“These two friends also shared the first meal of Ramadan with me,” she added. “Mawlid is all about sharing and being tolerant.”
But Othmani’s not the only person who’s Mawlid holiday consists of a cultural exchange. Diana Jendoubi, an American teacher and Tunisia Live contributor, has celebrated all three years that she’s lived in Tunis. This year, for the first time, she’s planning to cook assida zgougou for her husband, Zied, and his family.
We asked her if she was nervous, and she didn’t miss a beat. “Yes! It’s really easy to make a mistake with zgougou,” she said. “It’s my first time making a Tunisian dish for the family. I usually cook two or three times for them during Ramadan, but it’s typically pasta or some other Italian or European food.”
“They either love it or they think it’s really weird,” she added.
Jendoubi said she learned to cook assida by watching her husband’s mother and sister make it and by searching for recipes online. “Zied doesn’t know I’m making it,” she said. “He’s working in the South, and I’m surprising him.”
She added that the cooking wasn’t the only stressful part. “I spent an hour at the Carrefour [supermarket] because there was a mad rush for the nuts that go on top,” she said.
Zeineb Marzouk is a journalist at Tunisia Live newsroom. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in English language at the university of Human and social science of Tunis (FSHST). Zeineb speaks Arabic, English, French, and Italian.