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What's up with that?Q: Everywhere we went on New Year’s Eve, there were people killing sheep in the streets, then skinning them and cooking them. I know people here have a bit more hands-on experience with their food, but this was crazy — every family was out there. What’s up with that?

A: What you saw was two age-old traditions from different cultures that happened to fall on the same day this year. New Year’s Eve, of course, is a time of celebration for almost every culture, though it’s certainly a little more low key (i.e., no champagne corks flying at midnight) in Arab countries. The other thing happening that day — the things that explains all the sheep being slaughtered — was one of the most important Islamic religious holidays on the calendar: Eid al-Adha.

Eid al-Adha falls at the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim is supposed to make once in his life. This year, it was on Dec. 31 for most Muslims (different sects celebrate on different days). Anyhow, Eid al-Adha is also known as the Festival of Sacrifice. It marks the time when Abraham was going to sacrifice his only son to God — instead, in the end, God spared the son but honored Abraham’s faith.

So, now on the festival, Muslim families that can afford it go out and buy a sheep or two to slaughter and eat on the festival. In some places, a camel or a goat takes its place. Much of the meat from the slaughter is given away — one-third is eaten by immediate family, one-third is given to friends, and one-third is donated to the poor.

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