The most joyful celebrations in Iraq mark religious occasions. These holidays follow the Muslim calendar, which begins the year Mohammed journeyed to Medina to escape persecution (622), and which also follows the lunar cycle. Consequently, dates of festivities change annually.
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a month of fasting. During the month, all people, with the exception of the infirm and young children, refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. People rise very early to have a meal before daybreak, then gather after dark for supper, which often begins with dates. Ramadan ends with the largest Islamic celebration, Id al-Fitr (or Eid), which occurs on the first day of Shawwal, the tenth month. People exchange Eid cards and give food and money to the needy. Children wear new clothes, girls decorate their feet and hands with henna, and families and friends exchange visits.
The holiday of Id al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice honours Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Issac. Falling on the tenth of Dhu al Hijjah, the twelfth month of the year, the occasion is often marked with the sacrifice of a lamb, whose meat is distributed to the poor. Other celebrations include Mohammed's birthday and ascension. Shi'ite Muslims also celebrate the deaths and birthdays of significant imams. An especially important day commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn (or Hussein), the third Imam.
In addition to Muslim festivals, Iraqi Kurds also celebrate Nau Roy ("new day"), a festival also celebrated by Persians, Azeries and Afghans. Nau Roy marks the first day of spring (March 21) and also commemorates the legendary anniversary of the people being freed from the rule of a tyrant. The day is celebrated with parades, singing, dancing, poetry recitals, plays, picnics and the lighting of bonfires. Nau Roy is also the beginning of the Kurdish calendar year.
Most national secular holidays, which occur on fixed dates, mark historic occasions. Peace Day commemorates the anniversary of the ceasefire in the war with Iran in 1988.