Pakistanis, along with Muslims across the world, are celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday this week, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
At night, green, red and white lights brighten Pakistan's streets and markets, and pop music blares from loudspeakers as the country marks its biggest holiday of the year. After a month of refraining from food, drink and smoking during daylight, Pakistanis and the rest of the Muslim world join in a two-day celebration of banquets, gift-giving and family get-togethers.
For Pakistanis, especially city-dwellers, the party started Tuesday night, a time known as Eid Chadrat, when the streets are packed with people doing last-minute shopping and hitting the restaurants.
Women take the opportunity to have their palms painted with red henna and to put on bangles and other jewelry. As Nasira Naqvi, an Islamabad doctor, points out, this makes the holiday a lot more fun. She compares it with the other main Muslim festival, Eid al-Adha, which revolves around the eating of sacrificial goat meat in honor of the prophet Ibrahim (Biblical patriarch Abraham). "I think this is the only function in the year that, really, the girls are going to enjoy," she says. "The other Eid, where we sacrifice the goats, that is not that enjoyable."
Doctor Naqvi's teen-age daughter, Natasha, agrees, eagerly cataloguing presents she plans to buy for her friends. "Presents include Eid cards, bangles, henna, stuffed toys - you know, cute things," she says.
Despite the Naqvis' enthusiasm, many merchants are complaining that unseasonably cold weather and low consumer confidence have kept business slow in the run-up to Eid.
Although Pakistan posted robust economic growth this year, clothing shop clerk Sami Ullah Gaved says customers are watching their pocketbooks. "People's purchasing power[(was] good last year," he says. "This year the economy is so bad, that's why [sales are] not good this year."
Speaking from the consumer's point of view, Dr. Naqvi finds prices a little steep, but says that economic questions mean little when it comes to holiday fun. "The prices are a bit higher this year, but still we are buying things. I think most people don't think about the prices, on Eid day especially."
But financial considerations are not the only snag on this year's Eid.
An argument has broken out between Pakistan's religiously conservative Northwest Frontier Province and the federal government over which day the festival should start. The Koran mandates that Eid fall on the day after the sighting of the first new moon following Ramadan. The moon sighting is usually left to a committee of religious leaders and can vary from country to country.
A council convened by Pakistan's national government sighted the moon on Tuesday, making Wednesday the beginning of the Eid. The Northwest Frontier Province, however, appointed a council of its own and found the new moon on Monday. As a result, the province started Eid a day earlier, putting it in step with neighboring Afghanistan as well as several other nations.
But Pakistanis will tell you that, no matter what day Eid comes or how the economy goes, nothing detracts from the holiday spirit of celebration, family, and thanksgiving to Allah.