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Happy Sheepday!


As Americans sit down to their Thanksgiving feasts today, Senegalese are furiously getting ready to celebrate the Muslim holiday Tabaski this Saturday.

Known as Eid al-Adha in much of the Muslim world, Tabaski is quite possibly the biggest holiday in Senegal, where almost 95 percent of the population is Muslim. People talk about it, save for it and prepare for it all year long.

On that day, Muslims around the world sacrifice sheep or other animals to commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God.

Herders have been filling Dakar's empty lots and street medians with sheep all week in anticipation of the event. Young men walk the sidewalks brandishing sharp knives they are selling for the sacrifice. Tailors are working round the clock to finish the vibrant, flowing new boubous families will wear for the day. Women are cooking, having their hair done and stocking up on fresh makeup, jewelry and shoes. The markets are packed, and the air is buzzing with pre-holiday excitement and stress.

The day commemorates forgiveness, togetherness and generosity. Like American Thanksgiving, it is a day when families get together and eat ... and eat and eat.

Though Saturday is the actual holiday, Tabaski is really a three-day affair, with families celebrating until Monday. The autoroutes will be jampacked with Dakar residents going home to their towns or villages for the weekend. Those who stay in Dakar will celebrate at their houses and then visit friends and family around town to spread some holiday cheer and show off their fancy new outfits. 

Celebrating Tabaski is not cheap. A sheep can cost anywhere from $150 to $1,000, and families go hundreds of dollars in debt on new outfits and supplies for the event. 

Just keeping the lights on and putting food on the table is a daily struggle for many Senegalese families. Though Tabaski season is always a bit of a scramble for cash, people have told me that this year is more difficult than most. Work is hard to come by, and things seem more expensive.

They have said they are really feeling the crunch of the global financial crisis, and a sheep won't be the only sacrifice many families will make come Saturday.