Eid al-Fitr (Festival of the Break Fast)
Eid al-Fitr falls on the first day of Shawwal, the month which follows Ramadan in the Islamic calendar. It is a time to give in charity to those in need, and celebrate with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy.
Before the day of Eid, during the last few days of Ramadan, each Muslim family gives a determined amount as a donation to the poor. This donation is of actual food -- rice, barley, dates, rice, etc. -- to ensure that the needy can have a holiday meal and participate in the celebration. This donation is known as sadaqah al-fitr (charity of fast-breaking).
On the day of Eid, Muslims gather early in the morning in outdoor locations or mosques to perform the Eid prayer. This consists of a sermon followed by a short congregational prayer.
After the Eid prayer, Muslims usually scatter to visit various family and friends, give gifts (especially to children), and make phone calls to distant relatives to give well-wishes for the holiday. These activities traditionally continue for three days. In most Muslim countries, the entire 3-day period is an official government/school holiday.
Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice)
At the end of the Hajj (annual pilgrimage to Mecca), Muslims throughout the world celebrate the holiday of Eid al-Adha.
During the celebration of Eid al-Adha, Muslims commemorate and remember Abraham's trials, by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a sheep, camel, or goat. This action is very often misunderstood by those outside the faith.
Allah has given us power over animals and allowed us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the solemn act of taking life. Muslims slaughter animals in the same way throughout the year. By saying the name of Allah at the time of slaughter, we are reminded that life is sacred.
The meat from the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha is mostly given away to others. One-third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends, and one-third is donated to the poor. The act symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us or close to our hearts, in order to follow Allah's commands. It also symbolizes our willingness to give up some of our own bounties, in order to strengthen ties of friendship and help those who are in need. We recognize that all blessings come from Allah, and we should open our hearts and share with others.
It is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practiced by Muslims, has nothing to do with atoning for our sins or using the blood to wash ourselves from sin. This is a misunderstanding by those of previous generations: "It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him." (Qur'an 22:37)
The symbolism is in the attitude - a willingness to make sacrifices in our lives in order to stay on the Straight Path. Each of us makes small sacrifices, giving up things that are fun or important to us. A true Muslim, one who submits his or herself completely to the Lord, is willing to follow Allah's commands completely and obediently. It is this strength of heart, purity in faith, and willing obedience that our Lord desires from us.