This Raya celebrations were unusually quiet. Just before midnight on the eve of Hari Raya, there was a short cackle of firecrackers and a small burst of fireworks. Then all went quiet!
Usually, in the hour before the festive day, you would hear spluttering firecrackers from near and faraway and see balloon bursts of fireworks lighting up the sky here and there. On Hari Raya, there would be a few Kenduris (party) and you could see Muslims in their Baju Melayu waking to their neighbours’ homes.
But not this Raya hols — at least not in my neighborhood, which has a large Muslim population. There were no kenduris; there weren’t even any green, twinkling lights flickering from windows and doorways. My Malay neighbours just disappeared (but many have since got back!)!
But, the next day, as I was driving to visit my brother and his family in Seremban, the roads were chock-a-block with cars. I think nearly the entire Malay community was on the road! Protons lined the roads — with a good number of BMWs, VWs, Audis and Hondas! — and many were having fun overtaking each other. Thank goodness there were no accidents — at least, not during my journey!
I think this year Malays either balik kampung (going home to the village) to celebrate Hari Raya or took a trip elsewhere. On my street, the Malay homes were empty and locked up!
I kinda missed the festivities around me. The noise from happy homes and people milling around, comfortable in their religious practices and cultural outfits and traditions.
It is one of the nicest things about being Malaysian — enjoying each other’s foods (this comes first for Malaysians!), clothes, company, and cultural and religious practices. So much so, when these things are not there at the appointed times, you miss it!
Perhaps, for most people, because of rising costs, it was cheaper to balik kampung. Or, increasingly, those with means, may have a kenduri before Raya and take off to go abroad during the holidays.
I think the latter seems to be the emerging trend these days for all Malaysians — going off somewhere during the festive holidays.
Come to think about it, I recall now that it was just as quiet during the Chinese New Year holidays. Well, a little noisier since the Chinese must herald the new year with loud firecrackers! But, many on my street, too, locked up their homes and were off.
I can understand why people want to go off on a holiday with family. That’s a good thing, too. But, I really hope that we Malaysians never lose our practice of enjoying our festivities with the people around us.
When we stop doing it, we risk isolating ourselves from others and that, I’m sure, will not contribute to the building of a cohesive society.
Political parties hold open houses at the national or state levels, but, I think, we, as neighbours, should do it more often in our neighbouroods to facilitate better integration at the ground level.
When we do this, I hope we will do it with respect for one another’s beliefs and not for the purposes of “converting”. If it is a religious feast, whatever religious practices need to be conducted can be done I’m sure people understand and will respect it. But the festivities should not be held for the exclusive purpose of “converting” or used for that purpose. That can be left to the religious organizations. People know where to go to and who to speak with if they are really interested in a religion.
At the neighborhood level, open houses should just be a celebration with family, relatives, friends and neighbors simply to enjoy the occasion with each other.
I hope the Malaysian tradition of holding open houses during our festive holidays will be a continuing practice and one which will become more inclusive and freely celebrated by all, because we believe it’s a Malaysian thing.