I love festive seasons. I relish the fact that we Malaysians celebrate plenty of festivals all year round whether it’s cultural, religious, local or international. I never run out of excuses to get together with friends and loved ones to celebrate and/or enjoy a good feast.
When I was a child, I always looked forward to festive holidays. Not only because it meant school was out but also because I got to spend plenty of time with my cousins, aunties and uncles. As both my parents came from huge families, I always had other kids to play with during holidays.
One of my favourite celebrations as a young girl was Hari Raya Aidilfitri, a festival which is preceded by the holy month of Ramadan. Come this Eid, I would have celebrated 44 Hari Raya festivals.
Though my status has changed over the years, the way I celebrate the festival, remains similar. For instance, we always spend it with our immediate and extended families, some of whom we don’t get to see the rest of the year.
Our Raya celebration always begins with enjoying the first meal of the day together, which is after the men and womenfolk return from morning prayers. This is followed by more meals, which are oftentimes shared with relatives who visit.
The best things about Hari Raya to me is catching up with all the warm, familiar faces and feasting on traditional delicacies like ketupat and rendang. Ketupat was apparently the staple for seafarers (Bugis were once seafarers and I am of Bugis origin). My family’s favourite however, is laksa Johor, a meal I find rather tedious to prepare.
One of the other reasons I looked forward to Hari Raya as a child is because it was the time of the year when I looked forward to getting new shoes and clothes.
Back then, we only got new apparel, with the exception of school attire, once a year. Much to my dismay however, my mother loved to dress my sister and me up in the same baju kurung or dresses. My mum usually hand-sewed our Baju Kurung Johor too despite being busy with her work and baking cookies for the festivities.
The Hari Raya began a few weeks before the festival, when we purchased our clothes and shoes. Every day after the pre-dawn meal, I would peek into my shoebox to look at my brand new shoes, which I usually got from Bata. At that time it was hip to wear the brand!
I also enjoyed performing the task of sending kuih or dishes my mum had prepared to our next door neighbours about an hour before breaking fast, during Ramadan.
Back then, Ramadan bazaars were unheard of. Neither was the word iftar familiar. We referred to the breaking of fast as buka puasa. Then, the womenfolk would cook something special for buka puasa and share the food with their neighbours.
Another thing I looked forward to was playing with sparklers and firecrackers in the evenings. My dad would also put up long wooden sticks around our house to hang lampu pelita. Every evening he and I would carefully pour kerosene into the pelita and light them up.
One Ramadan however, I hand an accident and burned my right hand playing firecrackers. I’ve never look at them the same since!
I also remember how at the end of the fasting month, I would sit anxiously in front of the TV for the Keeper of the Ruler’s seal’s announcement of the sighting of the new moon. Another day of fasting would follow if no moon was sighted that evening.
To me, one other great thing about Raya, when it finally arrived, was getting my dad’s permission to drink carbonated drinks like Mirinda strawberry and Fanta Orange. I didn’t get to drink much of it the rest of the year as they were considered pricey.
I also enjoyed receiving duit raya from relatives and family friends. When I entered adulthood, I began finding Hari Raya less exciting. Not only did I stop receiving duit raya, I was expected to be home to serve others.
When my status changed from single to being married, I was bestowed with the additional task of visiting my husband’s relatives. As my husband has a very huge family, visiting can take days while memorising names has taken me well, forever.
What I’ve come to realise from the many Hari Raya I have celebrated is connecting with others should be done out of willingness not obligation.
Being sincere about one’s intention far outweighs other things which we tend to focus more on. Like wearing new clothes or jewellery, putting up new curtains or serving a table full of kuih raya.
I think it’s wonderful that a religion dedicates certain periods of the year towards fasting and doing charity. But I also believe that it’s important to extend our capacity to forgive, and to perform good deeds throughout the year, whether we get rewarded for doing them, or otherwise.
I also hope that this Hari Raya we collectively stay calm especially when driving so we actually get to celebrate another Eid with our family, friends and loved ones.> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.