Something new, something old this Raya

Aina Khairunnisa (right) and her family posing for their annual Raya portraits - LOW BOON TAT/THE STAR

Hari Raya celebrations are always jubilant, as families come together from all over to spend the festivities together, asking forgiveness from one another for any misgivings in the past year.

Of course, there’s also the array of delicious traditional food to dig into, as well as reuniting with family members to catch up on the past year’s goings on.

Over the decades, however, the way Raya is celebrated has changed as many traditions become modernised. However, it’s not a case of “out with the old, in with the new”; rather, new traditions are formed that carry elements of the old but adapted to the changing times.

Aina Khairunnisa Mohd Zalani, 26, feels that while embracing modernity is important, it is just as vital to keep old traditions and heritage alive as they remind us of the roots that make a culture special.

“Raya with my cousins feels very different from before, as back then, we would all participate in cleaning the house a day before Raya,” says Aina Khairunnisa.

“We would gather around to help our mothers and grandmothers prepare traditional dishes and, overall, ensure that everything was ready for the celebrations.

“Now, it is common for us to have potluck dinners for Raya instead, where everyone will bring a dish of their own for the family to share. While this eases everyone’s workload in cooking, it does take away the time spent bonding and working together,” says Aina Khairunnisa who will be travelling back to Melaka for Hari Raya.

Another difference? Phone-time! Youngsters, especially, spend a lot of the holidays on their phones, she says.

“Nowadays it’s not uncommon to see the youth indoors during open houses playing online games and such. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t celebrating Raya with those they hold dear like how our elders used to. While not as frequent as before, we still play old-school board games and interact with our relatives. Only nowadays, the phone simply provides us with a wider option of things to do,” she says.

Some traditions have been preserved in her family, she says, such as the handing out of duit raya packets for youngsters and those in the family who are unmarried.

“A tradition my family still maintains is the act of having the younger cousins gather together for the elders to hand out their duit raya, where we would take turns to shake their hands and ask for forgiveness.

“We also still take our family portraits together. But what’s different now is that instead of only being able to take several photos with everyone gathered together in the living room, we can easily snap pictures throughout the day with our phones.

“I do believe that having modern technological solutions to the way we celebrate Raya can erode the significance of traditional face-to-face interactions if gone overboard.

“(Traditional) interactions enable us to build stronger bonds, and having more personal connections enable individuals to grow closer, fostering trust and rapport more effectively than digital interactions,” she says.

Family portraits during Raya are a must but youngsters add variety to the traditional posed shots. Photo by Nurul Emalin.Family portraits during Raya are a must but youngsters add variety to the traditional posed shots. Photo by Nurul Emalin.

For university student Insyirah Reyes, (or Yaya as she is known), 22, although she and many other youths will be on their phones a lot, this doesn’t mean they won’t be sociailising with their elders or other family members.

“From what I see, this is only true to a certain extent, as we are able to bond through social media and online games now – something the older generation may not understand as they grew up without this experience,

“Even outside of Raya, you will see children bonding and spending time together through playing online games,

“We’re not opposed to socialising – we just prefer to do it through the method that is most familiar for us.

“In my family, it’s common to see the younger kids socialising through games like Roblox, where even if they are not physically talking to each other, they share a special connection that bonds them through the medium they find most comfortable.

“I’ll always hear my elders point out that we are spending too much time on our phones rather than actually talking to each other, but that’s not exactly the case – we are still communicating, just not the way they used to do before the era of phones and games.

“I’m blessed to have a very understanding grandfather who bonds with us younger grandchildren through TikTok.

“Even at his age, he will always gladly include himself when we are filming TikToks as it’s a time for us to learn and share about each other’s differences.

“Sometimes, it’s not that the youngsters don’t want to spend time with our seniors, but whether they are willing to learn and join in on our ways of having fun,” adds Yaya.

Aina Sakina (top left) and her family posing for a lovely family photo. Beside her is her husband Azrul Nasiruddin, and her two children Ayra Sofea Azrul (bottom right) and Zim Shazad Azrul (bottom right). - Aina SkinaAina Sakina (top left) and her family posing for a lovely family photo. Beside her is her husband Azrul Nasiruddin, and her two children Ayra Sofea Azrul (bottom right) and Zim Shazad Azrul (bottom right). - Aina Skina

Balik kampung

For Noor Hasliza Ismail, one of the biggest differences in the way Hari Raya is celebrated over the past few decades is the practice of going back to her hometown for the festivities.

The 48-year-old says that in the past, everyone in the family would return to their village no matter how busy or difficult the journey was as gathering with the family was a priority for Hari Raya.

“Back then, we would balik kampung a few days before Raya to delegate the chores, where everyone would play a part in cleaning and decorating the house.

“But I have noticed that this tradition has been increasingly disappearing, especially for those who live very far away,” Noor Hasliza said.

“A possible reason for this change could be parental concern for their children’s safety, especially with the traffic and long distances they are required to travel to make it back home for Raya.

“It isn’t so easy to come home, especially if you live far away, as there are many things to consider in terms of work commitments, planning, traffic and travel,” she says.

Also, as she and her siblings are all “working adults in the city”, it is sometimes hard to plan trips back together.

“Given each of our busy schedules, planning a trip back can be challenging.

“I’ve seen many friends opt to return home a week earlier to avoid the traffic jams, and in my family’s case, we usually choose to return on the second day of Raya.

“Previously, it was customary for all family members to convene before Hari Raya, where we would bond through activities such as preparing traditional dishes like lemang and rendang, and eventually have the whole family together to celebrate the first day of Raya.

“However, it has become much more challenging to gather every one nowadays.

“I’ve observed a declining trend in the number of relatives visiting during the week of Raya, as they tend to attend only if there’s an open house event – something that is increasingly more common with the current generation,” says Noor Hasliza.

“But, a good thing about the current era is that regardless of where you are in the world, you can still communicate with your family through (phone and video) calls and messages, keeping our bonds strong and intact,” she says.

Aina Khairunnisa (left) and her mother with their selection of modern and tradition Raya snacks - LOW BOON TAT/THE STARAina Khairunnisa (left) and her mother with their selection of modern and tradition Raya snacks - LOW BOON TAT/THE STARDigital wishes

Noor Hasliza adds that it is also much easier to send greeting cards and messages to friends and family now, as everything can be done through a tap of the phone.

However, the convenience of ecards, she admits, does take the “feeling” out of the act.

“It used to be a common sight to see people rushing to bookstores to buy physical greeting cards during the Raya season.

“You could have chosen a specific card design for each friend’s personality, and it was considered a very special moment putting words that came straight from the heart onto paper for our loved ones.“While there is much more ease in sending greetings now, the personal touch of having a unique card for everyone is gone, as sending a short ‘Selamat Hari Raya’ message or WhatsApp sticker is sufficient for most people today.”

For some, the traditional sampul Raya is still relevant while others have opted for e-duit Raya as they feel it is more sustainable. Photo by Nurul Emalin.For some, the traditional sampul Raya is still relevant while others have opted for e-duit Raya as they feel it is more sustainable. Photo by Nurul Emalin.For some, digitalisation has extended to the way duit Raya is distributed. Some say it’s even more sustainable.

Aina Sakina Ma’amor, 45, said she’s noticed a rising trend of handing out eduit Raya through the use of ewallets and QR codes.

“We end up throwing away our old greeting cards and sampul (money envelopes) most of the time anyway, so doing this digitally can be more environmentally beneficial, even if it loses the traditional touch of receiving it physically,” she says.

“Raya home decor has been modernised as well, with people taking inspiration from the things they see online to incorporate contemporary furniture with traditional, hand-made decorations,

“Something I noticed that has been fizzling out in recent years is the sight of pelita buluh (oil lamps) lighting up the streets,

“Back then, we would pour oil into bamboo lamps to light them up. However this isn’t very accessible for those living in the city, with people resorting to the use of electric lamps instead.

“While I believe that many newer, more modern versions of what used to be familiar to us can be better in terms of efficiency and accessibility, I personally feel that the elements they held in making Raya special are starting to disappear,” says Aina Sakina.A winning combo

Nostalgic Raya food has also not been spared from modernisation, with new trends like salted egg pineapple tarts and red velvet sempirit stocking shelves at bakeries and markets.

Yaya thinks that there is “nothing wrong with combining traditional recipes with modern ingredients”, as they can coexist to create treats just as delicious as the classic renditions.

“It’s not really about wanting to make kuih Raya to suit a younger audience, as it’s up to every individual’s preference,

“In my case, I prefer the older recipes for Raya cookies, whereas my grandmother enjoys modern ones – it’s simply just to add variety to cater to more people with the tools and ingredients available to us today,

“Both versions are equally as good, but what’s essential is to strike a balance between them to ensure that the key elements that make our traditional snacks unique are preserved as otherwise, it would simply be your everyday sweets and desserts.”

Mohd Zalani Yusof and his daughter bond via filming Tiktoks videos. - LOW BOON TAT/THE STARMohd Zalani Yusof and his daughter bond via filming Tiktoks videos. - LOW BOON TAT/THE STAR

Another aspect of Raya that has been modernised is the traditional attire worn during the festive season.

“I tend to get questions from my relatives sometimes for preferring not to wear traditional baju kurung as most designs tend to look unflattering on me,

“I usually opt for kaftans or baju kebaya with pareo skirts instead, as I believe there isn’t any problem with the modernisation of Raya attire,” Yaya says.

“Even I, who don’t prefer baju kurung, own several pairs that I still wear on a day-to-day basis, so to say that the modern designs of baju kurung are disrespectful to our tradition and heritage is farfetched,” she adds.

“From my observations, younger people choose to wear modern Raya attire simply because they look good and flatter their silhouettes. The youth tend to gravitate towards modernised Raya attire as the style reflects current fashion trends and personal tastes,” she says.

Change, Yaya reckons, is inevitable and what matters is how we intertwine the old with the new.

“Decades from now with improved technology and shifting norms, the current approach to Raya traditions are for sure to be transformed even further.

“Enhancing parts of a tradition or heritage doesn’t necessarily mean we want to get rid of it altogether; but rather, we include modernity so that everyone can cherish the beauty of what makes the traditions unique with elements that are familiar to everyone.”

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Hari Raya , modern Raya


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