A huge bubbling wok of rendang cooking over an open fire while housewives busied themselves taking turns stirring it to create a delicious tasting dish. This activity would go on for hours while kids run around setting up oil lamps in the compound of the house as it needs to be beautifully and brightly lighted before the sun sets. That's the scenario and joy of welcoming Hari Raya Puasa, also known as Eid Fitr in a typical Southeast Asian village in Malaysia.
After a whole month of fasting, Muslims around the world celebrate one of the biggest religious holidays. In Southeast Asian countries with large Muslim communities like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, Muslims and non-Muslims alike look forward to the delicious spread of food specially prepared for the occasion. Although food may often be the center of attraction, Hari Raya Puasa actually signifies the end of Ramadan (fasting for a month) where Muslims fast from dusk to dawn. It is also during the fasting month that the Muslim community prepares for the Hari Raya Puasa celebration which comes immediately after Ramadan. The celebrations may last for a month.
Yes, you read it right. Official public holidays are only for a couple of days but the celebrations do not end there. Many open houses are continuously hosted at homes and offices. Open house is a concept of throwing a party/gathering for friends and relatives with lots of food, cakes, cookies and snacks, usually served buffet style. However, have you wondered how Hari Raya Puasa is celebrated abroad? Would it differ from the celebration back home in Malaysia? We have Edura and Fazrin, both from the Nyonya Cooking community to share their experiences with us.
Hari Raya in Malaysia
All the necessary accompaniments for Eid Fitr, the jingles, cookies, good food and most importantly, loved ones are all within reach. These are the reasons that make the celebration so much more fun and meaningful for Fazrin who celebrated the occasion in Malaysia, her home country. According to her, all is good until the big discussion on whose hometown they should go to celebrate the occasion. Would it be her's or her husband's? Fazrin joked that it is the golden question among married couples. She and her husband amicably made an agreement to alternate between the hometowns every year. This year, it's her husband's!
The preparation on the night before
Children and their spouses together with their families are already gathered at the parents' home. It's common to see 3 or 4 generations of the family under one roof. Sometimes, extended family members are also present to spread the cheer and joy. With such a big group of people, Fazrin shared how everybody had a role. Women were kept busy preparing the wonderful dishes for the big day and men worked with the open-fire pot of ‘ketupat’ while kids filled jars with the myriad of cookies.
Prayers and forgiveness
As a religious celebration, Hari Raya Puasa isn't complete without a visit to the mosque nearby for the morning prayers. Everybody are in their best outfit, be it old or new. It just has to be clean and presentable. Fazrin, her husband and their baby girl were in matching outfits in grey as it was their theme colour. It's not unusual to see families wearing outfits of the same colour to represent their family.
While enjoying the occasion and having fun, Fazrin stressed that it is also important to honour the relationships with loved ones on this day. Besides, right after the morning prayers, Muslims visit the graves of their dearly departed to pray for peace for the deceased. Upon returning home, it is tradition to seek forgiveness among family members. A moment is spent speaking about the past and apologies are extended for any unintentional hurt they might have caused each other. For Fazrin, she finds this moment the most touching and meaningful during Hari Raya Puasa.
Endless open houses
When it begins, it almost never stops! That's exactly how it feels like for Fazrin and her family as they go on a visiting spree from one home to another. Meeting aunts, uncles, cousins and friends whom they've not seen for a while or welcoming new additions to the family. It's the time to catch up and make beautiful memories. According to Fazrin, she visited four different homes on the first day alone.
Food during open houses
Fazrin ate to her heart's content! The joy of festivity is definitely in the air. All the dishes that were served look so appetizing, especially ‘ayam ungkep’, a yellow coconut curry, cooked by her mother-in-law. At the home of Fazrin's mother, guests were impressed with ‘Laksa Johor’, a specialty of the Southern Malaysian state.
Besides, there was ‘sayur lodeh’ served with peanut sauce and ‘sambal tumis’ too.
This trail of amazing food continued right up to the 4th day of Hari Raya Puasa. She was even served with ‘Penang asam laksa’ at one of the open houses she visited. She could not resist but to feast during those days.
Hari Raya in Chicago
However, on the other side of the world, we have Edura who has been living abroad for 18 years. This year, she celebrated Hari Raya Puasa together with her Chicago-American husband.
Cooking is something Edura has been experimenting for some time now. According to her, as she gets older, she craves for food from her home country. Being abroad makes it even more important for her to stay connected with her Malaysian roots. Celebrating Hari Raya Puasa as a Muslim is one of the many traditions she loves keeping alive and sharing with her American friends and family.
Bringing Malaysians together
It is not easy to feel the festive atmosphere in Chicago especially when Hari Raya is not officially celebrated in America. Edura plays her role by rallying her fellow Malaysians to get them into the festive mood every single year. It is good to have a group of Malaysians coming together in a foreign country especially on this happy occasion. That's exactly what the Malaysian Association of Illinois (MAI) does and guess what, Edura got an invitation to attend the Hari Raya event that was held.
Fun and games
All guests were donned in their favourite traditional outfits. This strengthened the message of multicultural acceptance. It was very touching for Edura to see many non-Malaysians and Muslims who took the effort in dressing up for the occasion. A photo booth replicating the set-up of a typical village (kampung) in full decorations was made available.
That was certainly one of the highlights of the day as many grabbed the chance to pose in their beautiful outfits. Besides the food, the event also highlighted traditional games such as kick volleyball ('sepak takraw') and Southeast Asian mancala (congkak) for the kids' enjoyment. There were also performances, fashion and talent shows.
Local food specialties
What is a Hari Raya Puasa celebration without the special dishes to commemorate the day? The buffet table was filled with local Malaysian dishes. Edura was more than excited just smelling the caramalized sweet flavours of rendang, chicken curry, compressed rice and peanut sauce that she caught a glimpse of from afar. The committee members and volunteers truly gave their all in coming up with the best Hari Raya spread even though they are abroad.
Celebrating in your home country vs abroad
Such celebrations always bring back beautiful and heart warming memories. Both Fazrin and Edura are in the stage of their lives where they now play a role in carving out a wonderful experience for others who are not familiar with the traditions. Fazrin kept up with the honour of the day by abiding with the tradition set by her elders while Edura kept the tradition alive in a foreign country. Ultimately, the location of celebration doesn't really matter. What matters most is the people and the love for each other. Gratitude, forgiveness and love are the wonderful values reflected in both the celebrations irrespective of the place, race and religion.
Heartfelt thanks to Fazrin and Edura who very kindly shared their beautiful moments with us here. Do share with us how you kept up with the Hari Raya Puasa traditions this year regardless of wherever you may be.