The Ramadan lantern, or fanoos in Arabic, is one of the more emblematic symbols of the month-long festival, especially the final days of Eid al-Fitr, and is popular in many communities around the Islamic world.
Where did the fanoos tradition come from?
Nobody’s really sure.
Some say the practice goes back to the time of the pharaohs and celebrations of the birth of the the god Osiris. Others trace the lanterns back to the Christmas candles lit by Coptic Christians. Still others believe the lanterns were originally used to welcome a victorious sultan back to Cairo.
One of the most popular legends says that it was the Egyptian ruler Al Hakim BiAmr Illah who, back in the 10th century, ordered all imams to light Cairo’s streets during Ramadan.
No matter their true origin, fawanees (yep, that’s the plural of fanoos) are still lovely to look at and popular with kids.
How are fanoos made?
Metal smiths make the lanterns from punched metal and colorful glass insets. A candle set inside the lantern shines through the holes, creating a shimmering effect.
You can also get battery-operated made-in-China lanterns with lights and music.
Four Steps for Making Your Own Lantern
• Decide if you want to make a metal or cardboard lantern. The advantage of metal is that you can use a real candle inside and not have to worry about burning the lantern. Metal, however, is hard to work with so you may not get as intricate a design as you like.
• Use a permanent marker to draw the design you want directly onto an empty tin can.
• Use a hammer and nails to punch the pattern of holes. Drop in a votive candle and voila!
• To make a cardboard lantern, cut patterns in an empty cardboard container (a milk carton or cereal box works well), line the inside of the box with colored tissue paper or cellophane, decorate the outside of the box, and light it with a battery-operated votive candle.