A Tale of Three Raya Celebrations

04 July 2016

Hari Raya Aidilfitri may be one of the most popular religious holidays in Malaysia but each family celebrates it differently. Three families from across the Klang Valley share their traditions and rituals with us.

Malaysia has a lot of cultural and religious festivals and multi-cultural Malaysians have never been a people who would turn down a good celebration. Hari Raya Aidilfitri is certainly no different.

We talk to three families from different segments of society to see how they celebrate. And although they might have different backgrounds or even privileges, one thing is for sure - they know the importance of celebrating it with family and friends. And of course, with good food!

Datin Puteri Juliana Abdul Aziz and family

Datin Puteri Juliana Abdul Aziz is admiring the lights that had been set up by her electrician around her house compound. This is the most important part of her Raya preparations.

“This is only phase one! Wait until you see when it’s all up,” she smiles, as she walks around her bungalow, which is situated in the gated community of Sierra Mas, a suburb in Sungai Buloh.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri could be said to be one her favourite festivals and it is all about family and tradition when it comes to the household of this matriarch.

Her entire family, which includes her children, husband, mother, siblings, nephews and nieces will gather at her house on the first day of Raya. They dress up and they eat.

“I usually start cooking very last minute, like the night before, or else it wouldn’t be fresh. But everyone helps,” she says.

It wouldn’t be Raya if there weren’t any pulut kuning, chicken curry and ayam jintan, and ever the hardworking cook, Datin Julie, as she is affectionately known, never disappoints.

Everyone will be decked out in their Raya best and this year, her Raya outfit is a traditional Tun Teja-styled baju kurung designed by Bahari Asyek.

“In the olden days, this design was very practical and cooling too. It’s really comfortable,” she says.

This senior lecturer, who is a descendent of the late Sultan Idris Shah of Perak, always makes sure that her children follow the right traditions when it comes to Raya.

“Our mother wants us to always be dressed in full traditional baju Melayu for the whole day. We can’t even take off our kain samping!” laughs her second son, Adam Eizaaz Rashid, 21.

Her other children, Aiman Izzat Rashid, 22, and Puteri Lily Sofea Rashid, 14, nod in agreement. They can’t even change for the ride back to their kampung in Kuala Kangsar, Perak.

Datin Julie’s Raya celebrations can seem pretty extravagant, and that’s because it really is. And what that means is that she and her husband start saving up six months prior to the day.

She always tries to instill a sense of gratitude in her children by getting them to volunteer in the NGO that she runs, Peeple4Peeple.

“One time, I had broke curfew and as punishment, my mother made me use my pocket money to buy food for an orphanage and serve them,” smiles Aiman Izzat.

“He learned his lesson because he came home after a whole morning there and just gave me a hug and said thank you,” laughs Datin Julie.

Emi Rahimah Ansil and family

Emi Rahimah Ansil walks into a stairway in a building in the side streets of Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur. It is dark and smells dank. She walks two floors up and arrive at her flat.

It is a small, three room flat, probably between 600 to 700 square feet and there are currently seven people living together there. The feeling is a little claustrophobic.

She is a single mother and lives with her two daughters, Syaidatul Kamra Shahira, 14, and Syaidatul Kamra Shafira, 13.

Recently, she also took in another single mother whose husband disappeared a while ago. Noor Shafiqah Sumbang, 37, has four children and is currently jobless.

“I sell fruits for a living. But during the months of Ramadan and Syawal, I don’t set up stall because business gets too slow,” Emi explains.

She earns roughly RM1,000 a month running her fruit stall and the rent for her flat is RM1,200 per month. But somehow, through other odd jobs here and there, she is able to survive.

“It is tight but we get by. We get handouts like rice and clothes, and we don’t eat out. Buying raw food from the nearby Chow Kit market is cheap so we cook at home,” she smiles.

But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be Raya celebrations for Emi and her daughters. She will make sure that she cooks rendang ayam and makes kuih like rempeyek and epok-epok.

“It’s nice to provide a little bit of Raya atmosphere for the children. It makes me happy to see them happy,” she says.

Their Raya celebration is modest but no less festive and merry than any other family in Malaysia.

Emi, who is 58-years-old and hails from Tuaran, Sabah, is a very jovial person. She is popular and very well-liked in the Chow Kit neighbourhood.

“I’ve lived in this flat for the past 20 years and as usual, it will be filled with neighbours and friends for at least a week from the start of Raya!” she laughs.

The Chow Kit area in the city of Kuala Lumpur is known for being a poverty-stricken neighbourhood and various NGOs pay the area regular visits to assist the locals.

“Brand new Raya clothes are not important for us adults. And for the kids, they get new clothes from NGOs, and just the other night they also got a little bit of duit Raya,” says Emi.

Rozaila Zakaria and family

The Emam household, a terrace house in Taman Seputih, Kuala Lumpur, is filled with noise of the entire family kneading dough into the cute little kuih Raya shapes.

For Rozaila Zakaria, who works in the tech industry, Raya is her favourite festival of the year and she just needs to really get into the mood, and everyone has to get into the mood as well!

“I really want my children to have the full Raya experience. So we will bake kuih Raya, have an open house and also balik kampung!” says Rozaila heartily.

Preparation is more fun and laughter rather than serious work and everyone joins in, which includes her husband, Attila Emam, eldest son Qais Fahim, 10, daughter Tushara Emam, 3, and youngest boy Temujin Emam, 11 months.

“I grew up outside of Malaysia due to my father’s work. So I never had a really traditional Raya experience like my wife,” says Atilla, an executive in the airline industry.

So he gets hauled along for the ride!

Rozaila makes a big deal out of getting new Raya outfits and her kids enjoy it, especially Tushara, who loves prancing around in her baju kurung with special angel wings on the back.

“The whole family used to get a complete set of matching Raya outfits and I would even tailor-make them at expensive boutiques like Sparkmanshop. But we toned down now. It’s mainly just for the kids,” she explains.

Raya usually starts with an open house on the first day when family and friends come and pay a visit and to enjoy Rozaila’s chicken rendang and lodeh.

Then, once everyone has had their stomachs filled and leaves, the family drives off to balik kampung. This year, the family will be stopping in Melaka and Negeri Sembilan to visit relatives.

“The main thing about Raya for me is to just chill out with family and friends and not get too stressed out about tradition and whatever else. That’s how we do it!” chimes in Attila.

By Zan Azlee

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