Remembering Hari Raya as it used to be


HARI Raya Aidilfitri used to be much simpler with family members and the community coming together to make the celebration more joyful.

Today, the community spirit is missing and everything is bought rather than home-made, say some senior citizens.

Syed Abd Kadir Alhabshi, 69, remembers the days when the whole family pitched in to prepare for Hari Raya and everything was made at home.

He grew up in Peringgit, Malacca, where he had nine siblings. After one passed away and another was taken care of by an uncle, there were eight in the house – six boys and two girls.

He is No. 8, and the youngest of the boys. He has two younger sisters.

Their father was called a “merchant” those days; he had some inherited properties and earned an income from collecting rent. Their mother was a housewife.


“When I was small, Ramadan was something we were excited about because we used to wait by the radio to find out when fasting would begin. It was a big issue then and something to look forward to.

“We were very excited because our father challenged us by having incentives instead of forcing us to fast. If the younger children could fast a full day, he would give us something like an extra kuih at buka puasa. It was nothing big, but those days it was something for us to look forward to.

“Of course there was a competive spirit among us siblings. Being competitive, each of us wanted to win, so we would try to get the other siblings to break their fast. This would result in everybody trying harder not to break their fast,” says Syed Abd Kadir, laughing.

The countdown to Hari Raya would start 10 days ahead.

“We called it ‘sepuluh leko, sembilan leko’ … 10 days, nine days to Hari Raya. So, from ’10 leko’ we would start preparing. We would get together to clean the house compound, paint the flower pots, and start making the pelita (oil lamp), which we made from bottles … even the wick was made from gunny. Everything we made ourselves.

“Our father’s house had quite a big compound, about an acre of land, so cutting the grass and the hedges would take some time and all of us would be involved. The whole family would do it, including our parents, so it was a family affair. It was fantastic.

“On top of that, after Zohor (the afternoon prayers), the younger children, including me, would help our mother make cookies.

“All of this was done in the last 10 days. So, every day there would be activities as we looked forward to Hari Raya. It was a lot of fun,” says Syed Abd Kadir, lamenting the lack of such preparations today in Kuala Lumpur, with everybody busy working and everything being store-bought.

Annual car ride

On Hari Raya day itself, the family would go to the mosque and visit relatives.

What made it special was that only on this day in the whole year, their father would hire a car to take the younger kids visiting. The older ones would either walk, cycle or take the bus!

“So, you can imagine how much we looked forward to Hari Raya. Those days, we didn’t go to town even though we were just about 2.5km from town. This was just before Merdeka, or even after Merdeka. We looked forward to sitting in a car that one day in the year.

“The other thing we always looked forward to was visitors coming to the house, because we would get a bit of duit Raya (money packets for Hari Raya). Those days it was five cents or 10 cents,” he says.

Syed Abd Kadir laments that the family togetherness is missing today. Because of the convenience of buying everything you might need for Hari Raya (including cakes, cookies and decorations), there isn’t a need to make these things at home. Those were the moments when the family would spend time together talking, laughing and bonding.

Syed Abd Kadir Alhabshi: 'Now, people don't come to your house, they expect you to invite them. So, we have lost the culture of visiting.'
Syed Abd Kadir Alhabshi: ‘Now, people don’t come to your house, they expect you to invite them. So, we have lost the culture of visiting.’

He also laments that sometimes the neighbourhood kids in KL just turn up at the gate to collect duit Raya and not to visit.

“There is no courtesy; it’s gone. The children come expecting to receive the duit Raya.”

Syed Abd Kadir says that the one month of celebrations practised in the cities today inhibits the culture of visiting.

“That’s what I miss here. Those days, you would visit your friends. Now, people don’t come to your house, they expect you to invite them. So, we have lost the culture of visiting,” says Syed Abd Kadir, who has three daughters and two sons.

As his daughter just gave birth, the family will be celebrating Hari Raya in KL. This is the first time they won’t be going back to the kampung (in Kota Baru where his wife’s family is) to celebrate Hari Raya.

Grand affair

Jamilah Dato Daud, 69, kindergarten owner and former teacher, says the celebrations are just not the same now.

Today, there are parties held at home or in restaurants and hotels which are called “open house” and which are grand affairs with tents set up, caterers brought in and family and friends invited.

“Those days, we just visited each other and we didn’t have to wait for a special invitation to the open house event. There were no tents or the home being closed on the first day. We just visited each other.

“Today, there is the ‘open house’ and if you forget to invite one person, he or she will say ‘oh, I wasn’t invited’,” says Jamilah.

She grew up in Seremban with her four brothers and two sisters. She was the third child of a businessman father and a housewife mother.

“At that time we didn’t have anyone living away from Seremban; all our relatives were there. When I was about Form Two, my grandmother died, but everyone still came to our house to celebrate Hari Raya. We would have a big breakfast and for lunch my father would order food. Everyone’s house would be lit up and we didn’t buy the lamps like we do today; we used to make our own. We would have ketupat and rendang. By the age of 12, I remember I could bake cakes, unlike the children of today.

“Now that my mother has passed away, the family comes to my house for the first day of Hari Raya, because my house is right next to where my mother’s house was,” she adds.

Jamilah Dato Daud: 'It's important for us to remain as a family during Hari Raya.'
Jamilah Dato Daud: ‘It’s important for us to remain as a family during Hari Raya.’

While some of the traditions are maintained, some are lost. Jamilah notes that some families also take the opportunity to go away for holidays during Raya instead of celebrating with their extended family.

“It’s important for us to remain as a family during Hari Raya,” says Jamilah, hoping that her children will continue that tradition after she is gone.

Kampung festivity

For Soyah Itam, 87, memories of Hari Raya of the past are filled with joy as she remembers running around the paddy fields and helping her parents around the house.

She grew up in Malacca where her father worked in the paddy fields and tapped rubber. She was the second last child in a family of four girls and a boy.

She used to help out in the paddy fields before marriage. After getting married and moving to Kuala Lumpur, she sold nasi lemak for a short time.

“When we were small, Ramadan and Hari Raya were exciting. We looked forward to it. Before Raya we would look for coconut husks to make our own lamps.

“We also had the food at the Quran recital before fasting month started. We would have a kenduri.

“Those days we would have new clothes for Hari Raya only and seven days before Raya, we would also have our new baju tidur (nightgown).

“These days, every day the children can get new clothes. Those days, we only got new clothes at Hari Raya and if there was a wedding. So, naturally, we were very excited every Hari Raya.

“We used to make our own ketupat and kuih rose and dodol for Hari Raya. Now, we buy everything. I miss the tradition of making these cakes and food ourselves as a family,” says Soyah, admitting that she hardly makes any of these delicacies today.

While she still lives in Malacca now, she often visits her children in KL.

For Hari Raya, she says the family members will return to celebrate with her.

She says Hari Raya cannot be compared now and before, as these are different times we live in. She is just happy to see her family when they come home for Raya. This is an opportunity for her to cook something special for them.

Soyah Itam with her granddaughter Alia.
Soyah Itam with her granddaughter Alia.
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