Month-long festival draws to a close18 September, 2012 by Mus
September 16 saw month-long Muslim festivities come to an end. Hari Raya is what many call the first day of the month of Shawwal. In Singapore, the festivities are closely related to the Malay community, one that makes up nearly 15% of the country’s population.
While many often mistake it for the Muslim new year, this is not the case. Rather, Hari Raya is a festival celebrating the end of the month-long fasting period of Ramadan. It’s not uncommon to see families out on Hari Raya clad in traditional wear. Most families wear matching colors; it is rather magnificent to see a family spanning several generations all wearing the same color.
While the convention is to visit each others’ houses, much of the first day is dedicated to visiting the oldest in the family, who usually have trouble roaming around. This results in the grandparents’ houses being full of people as the extended family comes to visit.
Visitors are greeted with homecooked food and a variety of kueh, which are sweets made for the ocassion. After a month of fasting, dishes can get pretty extravagant; some matriarchs are known to spend the whole night before cooking for the family.
It is also a time for visiting relatives from beyond the confines of the country. Being in South-east Asia, many families are spread out across the region and it’s not uncommon to see cars from Malaysia coming into Singapore, and vice-versa. With vacation times in the neighbouring countries sometimes extending to a week, the former happens more readily than the later.
Little ones look forward to Hari Raya mostly for the highly coveted green packets. Much like the Chinese hong bao, these cash envelopes are usually given to the children from relatives or acquaintances older than they are. However, it differs from Chinese tradition in that the ones giving them out are not married, but rather are working adults in general. Some even see it as a rite of passage, with the act of giving these packets being a symbol of finally entering society as an adult.
As the month goes by, the festivities turn more secular as Muslims invite their non-Muslim friends over for a gathering to celebrate the occasion. Near the end of the month, much of the celebration is drawing to a close.
With the working climate of Singapore, Hari Raya provides an excellent opportunity to meet friends of all denominations to catch up on a weekend. It’s also an opportunity to sample real home-made food which admittedly, is quite different from that being sold in food establishments.
Next time Hari Raya rolls around, ask a friend if you can come over, I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to show you their home.