Festivals and Moussems

Morocco abounds in holidays, and festivals, both national and local, and coming across one can be the most enjoyable experience of travel in the country – with the chance to witness music and dance, as well as special regional foods and market souks. Perhaps surprisingly, this includes Ramadan, when practicing Muslims, including most Moroccans, fast from sunrise to sunset for a month, but when nights are good times to hear music and share hospitality.

Ramadan

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, commemorates the fast revelation of the Quran to Mohammed. Most people observe the fast, indeed Moroccans are forbidden by law from publicly disrespecting it. And few people are jailed for this each year.
The fast involves abstention from food, drinks, smoking and sex during daylight throughout the month. Most local cafés and restaurants close during the day, and many close up altogether and take a month holiday. There is compensation in witnessing and becoming absorbed into the pattern of the fast. At sunset, signaled by the sounding of a siren, by the lighting of lamps, on minarets, and in some places by a cannon shot, and amazing calm and sense of well-being fall on the streets. The fast is traditionally broken with a bowel of Harira and some dates. A combination provided by many cafés and restaurants exactly at sunset. You will also see almsgiving (Zakat) extended to offering Harira to the poor and homeless.

After Iftar (fast-breaking meals), everyone – in the cities at least – gets down to a night of celebration and entertainment. This takes different forms, if you can spend some time in Marrakech during the month; you’ll find the Jamaa El Fna square at its most active, with troupes of musicians, dancers and acrobats coming into the city for the occasion. Rabat and Fes, there seem to be continuous promenades with cafés and stalls staying open until 3 AM.
Urban cafés provide venues for live music and singing too. In the southern towns and Berber villages, you will often come across the ritualized Ahouach and Ahidous: circular, trance-like dances often involve whole communities.
If you are a non-Muslim outsider, you are not expected to observe Ramadan, but you should be sensitive about breaking the fast (particularly smoking in public). In fact, the best way to experience Ramadan, and to benefit from its naturally purifying rhythms, is to enter into it. You may lack the faith to go without an occasional class of water, and you’ll probably have breakfast later than sunrise, but it might be worth an attempt.

Moussems and Amougars

Moussems or Amougars – festivals, held in honor of Saints or marabouts, are local and predominantly rural affairs, and from the main religious and social celebrations of the year for most Moroccans, along with Aid es Seghir (Feast marking end of Ramadan) and Aid el Kebir (Feast of sacrifice). Some of the smaller Moussems amount to no more than a market day with religious overtones. Others are essentially harvest festivals, celebrating a pause in agricultural labor after a crop has been successfully brought in, but a number have developed into substantial occasions – akin to Spanish fiestas – and a few have acquired national significance. If you are lucky enough to be here for one of the events, you’ll get the chance to witness Moroccan popular culture at its richest, with horse riding, music, singing and dancing and of course eating and drinking.

There are enormous numbers of Moussems. An idea of quite how many can be gathered from the frequency with which, traveling about the countryside, you see Koubbas- the square, white domed buildings covering a saint’s tomb. Each of these is a potential focal point of a Moussem, and any one region or town may have twenty to thirty separate annual Moussems. Establishing when they take place, however, can be difficult for outsiders, most local people find out by word of mouth at the weekly souks. Some Moussems are held around religious occasions such as Mouloud (Prophet Mohamed’s birthday) which change date each year according to the lunar calendar, others follow the solar calendar.

Table below shows the main Moussems/festivals in different locations in Morocco.

Month Location The theme of the festival
February Tafroaute Moussem to celebrate the almond harvest
May Moulay Bousselham Moussem of Marabout Moulay Bousselham
Berkane Harvest Moussem for clementines
El Kelaa M’gouna Rose festival to celebrate the new crop
June Tan Tan Moussem of Sidi Mohammed Ma El Ainin
July Beni Arouss Moussem of Moulay Abdesslam Ben Mchich
Sefrou Festival of Cherries
August Setti Fatma Moussem of Setti Fatma
Sefrou Moussem of Sidi Lhacen
Tiznit Moussem of Sidi Ahmen o Moussa
Immouzer Honey festival
September Moulay Idriss Moussem of Moulay Idriss
Imilchil Marriage festival
Fez Moulay Idriss II festival
November Erfoud Festival of dates fruit
December Rafsai Olive festival
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