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Celebrating Syawal

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By Ili Aqilah

Aidilfitri is celebrated every year after a month of fasting during the month of Ramadan. It falls on the first day of Syawal, which is the tenth month in the Islamic calendar. Muslims all over the world will be celebrating the festival, as a show of gratitude to Allah for giving them the strength to fast and exercise self-control in overcoming earthly desires.

In Malaysia, Aidilfitri, also known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, has become one of the most celebrated festivals in the country. People from different races and religions will visit their Muslim friends during the festivity either to catch up with one another or to seek forgiveness. Friendships are strengthened and fractured ties are mended, all in the spirit of Aidilfitri.

An Occasion to Come together and be Merry

Balek Kampong

On this auspicious day it has become a norm for Muslims to come together and be merry. The much-anticipated balek kampong ritual takes on a definitive form and Malay Muslims will make that long sometimes perilous journey to their places of birth which they call kampong, thus the origin of the word balek kampong. Today, the balek kampong syndrome has affected all races, not Malays alone.

Traditional versus Modern

As tradition dictates, a few days before Aidilfitri, children who live away from their parents will return home and help their parents prepare for Hari Raya. Cleaning and decorating the house, cooking home-made food and baking cookies and cakes are some of the tasks that need to be done.

Foods served during Aidilfitri are slightly different from normal days. They include lemang (glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk in bamboo stems), ketupat (rice cooked in wrapped coconut leaves), rendang (chicken or beef slow-cooked with coconut milk and spices) and many more.

Cookies known locally as kuih raya such as pineapple tarts, honey cornflakes, semperit are some of the must-have edible items during Aidilfitri. The cookies are normally filled in decorative jars or plastic containers and, for the duration of the festivity, will be the centrepiece of all Malay Muslim families.

A house without these cookie-filled containers, displayed conspicuously on the dining table, is deemed not to celebrate Hari Raya.

These days, however, many have opted to buy ready-made and pre-cooked delicacies instead of making them from scratch, as most of these traditional delicacies require time and labour to prepare. Take kampong chicken rendang for example, as the meat is not as tender as regular chicken, it can take up to 3 hours to cook the dish to perfection. Hence, some would rather pre-order it from caterers, instead.

Kuih raya too have experienced a similar fate. Although they do not normally require a long time to prepare, many today prefer to buy them from traders at wet markets or at pasar malam and that is how the word kuih tunjuk originates. It simply means pointing to the cookies you prefer with your finger.

Food is not the only thing that has undergone changes due to the after-effects of modernity. Balek kampong is slowly being replaced by extended holidays. Yes, some will take the opportunity of the long break for a family vacation abroad. Visiting relatives and friends is now being replaced by visiting historical sites, theme parks, beaches and places of interest.

Back in the days when the Internet was non-existent or when it was in its infancy, those who visited their families would talk to one another. Information technology, however, has affected tradition in a big way. Visitors will now ask for Wi‑Fi passwords, nearest electrical point to either plug-in or charge their gadgets, and texting and whatsapping via android phones are the vogue. Gone are the days when one engages in small talk and gossip as a form of catching-up.

Have we gone too far?

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse” – Winston Churchill.

Although it is easier to buy lemangrendang and kuih raya nothing beats good, home-cooked meals. This Hari Raya, how about baking your own raya cookies? Start with trying something easier, such as Honey-covered Cornflakes. All you need are a box of your favourite cornflakes and honey (or syrup). Mix them together, scoop into your desired size and bake till it is golden and crispy. It is so easy. Next year, you can try and make your very own lemang and ketupat.

Family gatherings can sometimes ignite old disputes among siblings and offspring. This is one of the reasons why some prefer to spend their Aidilfitri alone or away on holiday. Well, blood is always thicker than water. You cannot and should not cut your ties just because you do not see eye-to-eye on certain issues. Try to make up, talk about things you like and recall the past. Your terms of endearment should remain intact, as you are part and parcel of the family.

Technology is supposed to keep us connected, making it easier to talk to friends and family members. However, things have worked differently. We prefer online chatting; sending private messages, uploading photos and many more than spending time with our loved ones.

Don’t get us wrong, we love the internet but during festivals or family gatherings, spend a little less time on your phones and more time with your loved ones.

Aidilfitri is a celebration of thanksgiving to honour our triumph over deprivations. It is a time to seek forgiveness and to renew ties with our families. Leave your gadgets for a while and start talking to your grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties and cousins. Ask about their well-being and their health, if they are old and infirm. A face-to-face conversation is definitely more meaningful than keeping glued to your phones and the idiot box.

How to make Aidilfitri fun?

1. Carpool to relatives’ houses

Carpooling has proven to be more fun and you can save plenty on petrol. Driving during the festive season can be exhausting due to the traffic, so carpool, instead. You can play car-games, hold karaoke sessions or make pit stops to buy food and souvenirs.

2. Sing your heart out

Prepare a playlist full of Aidilfitri songs and sing them. You have plenty to choose, from the classic Ahmad Jais’s ‘Selamat Hari Raya’, M. Nasir’s ‘Satu Hari Di Hari Raya’to something new. The classics are simply nostalgic.

3. Bake raya cookies together

It is much easier to buy raya cookies than make them, but baking together with family members can be real fun. You get to play around, learn how to work together and get a tip or two on cooking from your older relatives. Need cookie recipes? Check out:  www.kuali.com, www.koleksi1001resipi.com or just goggle.

4. Wear matching outfits

Nothing ensures togetherness more than matching outfits on Hari Raya. It shows unity and bonding among your love ones. You can either buy ready-made baju melayu and baju kurong at your nearest clothing stores and shopping malls or you can also buy them online via websites such as Fashion Valet, Pop Look and Zalora. Both male and female clothes are on offer.

And if all of the above do not work, go for a movie in town.

Selamat Hari Raya Maaf Zahir & Batin!

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