Changing times and traditions

Balik kampung vs video calls. — Illustrations: RAZZIAH ABDUL RASHID/The Star Graphics

AS we move through the years, digital advancement has been a big influence in altering some of the ways we prepare for and celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri. But with an unprecedented pandemic further precipitating that change, Hari Raya as we observe it today will be notably different.

Entering into our second Hari Raya Aidilfitri during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunday Star looks at some of the traditions that are fading away, and the new customs that are now replacing them.

Carrying on from last year’s Hari Raya experience, sociologist Dr Azrina Husin from Universiti Sains Malaysia feels that people will still keep the raya spirit going as much as possible despite the challenges posed by physical restrictions during the movement control order.

“We may do things differently but the spirit is still there. Technology has helped us to cope and cushioned a bit of our anxiety over not being able to celebrate it the way we used to. Imagine without technology, people would be separated during this important event, ” Azrina says, while giving examples of technology connecting family members who live in different areas, and the giving of duit raya through digital cash transfers.

While some of our traditions have changed due to time or because of Covid-19, Azrina believes that the essence of the traditions – family, friendship and charity – still remains.

“As we move forward in society, we should see technology as a medium that enables the preservation of certain traditions, and at the same time giving them new meaning.”

Balik kampung vs video calls

One of the first images that cross our minds when we think of Hari Raya is celebrating the festivities with extended family members at kampung house in villages or hometowns. Thousands endure the hours-long “balik kampung” rush and traffic jams during the build up to the 1st of Syawal.

However, as the years pass, more and more people are born and grow up in cities without a kampung to go back to, creating a new generation who now view the cities as their “kampung”.

To add to this, rising Covid-19 infections mean we will not be able to travel interstate. This is set to be the year when cities are no longer deserted during a major festival; rather, celebrations will take place amidst the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life and families living far apart will be connecting through video calls.

In fact, a new trend emerged last year where people took screenshots of all their family members tuning in to the Hari Raya video call and sharing the photos on their social media platforms.

Raya greeting cards vs digital photo greetings

Decades ago, the weeks leading up to Hari Raya would see bookshops and sundry shops filled with greetings cards. People would purchase and post them to friends and family living far away, and businesses would send cards to their loyal customers.

Nowadays, cards are harder to come by as technology has made sending festive greetings much easier and faster. Most people today share digital greetings on messaging apps or their social media pages. As a touch of personalisation, a popular trend on social media is to share digital photos of the family taken on Raya morning in their new clothes – some even include the family cat wearing traditional- themed outfits!

Duit raya in paper packets vs e-wallets

One of the things every child looks forward to during Hari Raya is receiving duit raya – money in paper packets from their parents, relatives, family friends or elder siblings.

The beautifully designed packets have become a celebration staple and some Malaysians have also started collecting them as a hobby. However, there may be fewer duit raya packets going around this year with travel restrictions and people preferring contactless transfers due to Covid-19.

Thankfully, there are alternative options that help keep the duit raya tradition alive. Those who prefer not to hand out physical cash or who are separated by distance can look to e-wallets – some e-wallet providers have introduced duit raya transfer services for giving and receiving money from loved ones.

Raya markets vs online shopping

During Ramadan, shoppers would usually flock to places like Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur for bargains on Hari Raya clothes and other festive wear and decorations. Pop-ups and booths would also spring up in shopping malls and bazaars.

While the physical shops are still there this year, many Malaysians are shying away from crowded spaces and opting instead to purchase their Hari Raya outfits online. Catering to this demand, many businesses are also making their products and promotions available for online purchase and are putting more effort into digital marketing.

Physical zakat fitrah payments vs online transfers

An annual obligation for Muslims is to pay the zakat fitrah (tithe). During Ramadan, the tradition is for Muslims to visit mosques to make the payment. Over the past years, zakat counters have been stationed in shopping malls for convenience.

However, the Covid-19 outbreak has encouraged more religious councils to provide online payment solutions for zakat fitrah, so the public can perform their religious duties while staying at home.


Perhaps one of the better changes this year is that people are less likely to be illegally setting off fireworks during Hari Raya. One of the reasons is that large gatherings will be prohibited and many will be remaining in the cities. This means there will be fewer opportunities for illegal fireworks due to limited space and smaller celebrations.

This is welcome as we always hear reports of children and adolescents suffering major burns or losing fingers due to fireworks accidents during the festive seasons. Unauthorised use of illegal fireworks can land you a fine and jail term.

Open houses vs smaller celebrations

There is no better place to get your fill of rendang, ketupat, lemang, serunding and all other Raya delicacies than at the open houses of your family, friends, and neighbours. Sadly, open houses – which can happen throughout the month of Syawal – won’t be possible this year.

The police have even warned that they will be checking homes with too many shoes in the porch and many cars suspiciously parked out front.

What we can do instead this year is to have a cosier gathering with our closest family members and do our best to make it an intimate yet memorable time for all.

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hari raya , mco , technology


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