What Raya Means To Me These Days

Hari Raya always brings back fond memories of my growing up years. To me, Hari Raya was always a joyous occasion with yummy delicacies, extended family visits, and our colour-coordinated new clothes and festive attire. However, while I had always looked forward to Hari Raya, I wasn’t all that enthused about the chores and preparations.

I grew up in a large family of 8 in a 3-room HDB flat. Preparations for Hari Raya for our family meant a thorough spring cleaning at home ranging from putting up fairy lights “lampu kelap kelip” to changing sofa cushion covers and putting up new curtains and carpets in our home. In the days leading up to Hari Raya, the fragrance of baked Raya cookies from the oven in the kitchen is an aroma that welcomed me whenever I got back home from school. Another scent that will always trigger memories of Hari Raya is that of fresh coat of paint, as we re-painted our humble home to give it a fresh look. Having many siblings has its perks during this time of the year because we get to divide the chores and tasks amongst us siblings, to assist our parents.

Now that I am older and having my own family now, I have grown to learn that the celebration of Hari Raya itself is not complete without the events and memories leading up to it. In fact, the pandemic and the circuit breaker period has given me a stronger realisation that it is the process and the journey that matters more than the celebration itself.

The Journey is the Celebration

This journey begins with the preceding month of Ramadan itself. At the height of the pandemic when we were stuck indoors, I had more time as a family and we took the opportunity to do congregational prayers together, Quran recitation and other spiritual acts of devotion together. At that time, as the mosques were closed for congregational prayers, we thought of bringing the mosque ambience back home, by redecorating one room with fairy lights and recycled materials to resemble the mihrab (area where the imam prays) in a mosque. I did this because I did not want my son to miss out on the feeling of going to a mosque during Ramadan. The decoration became a family project and we not only had an enjoyable time making it but the niche became a cosy area for family bonding time after prayers.

The Values during the Journey

I also try to inject in my children the same family values of cooperation and helping each other that I’ve learnt in helping out my own parents for Hari Raya. One day, my son decided to pack some of his favourite Hari Raya cookies to share at school. I helped him pack and tie them up in small packages with his handwritten notes. He said he wanted his friends to enjoy what he wants for himself too. This reminded me of a lesson from one of his favourite books, The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson, which we read before bedtime. This taught me: what we read to our kids shall shape how and who they’ll grow up to be. I hope that with every page flipped and read, our children will continue to open up hearts and minds.

The memories we make

When I was young, my family went to the bazaar late on Hari Raya eve after all the cooking, preparations and chores were done. It is also a time when the stall holders will offer reduced prices to clear stock which means huge savings for big families like ours. With the buzzing crowd and decorative lights, it was a beautiful memory of community togetherness and festivity. Although the Raya Bazaars we have now are different from what I had when growing up, they are still an important part of our traditions.

Memories of Geylang Serai Bazaar: This photo is combined together by AI from separate photos of all of us not looking into the camera

Hence, I recently brought my boys to the Wisma Geylang Serai bazaar. We got matching sampings, capal (traditional sandals) and baju kurung.  I wanted to take a photo of them with their new songkok from Haji Kamil but it was impossible to get the right shot because in each shot, at least one of us was looking away! In the end, I had to use an AI app to combine the photos. We had a good laugh looking at this photo. I hope my children will remember moments and memories like these. As a father sharing my own stories of Raya Bazaar and Raya preparation with my children, I also wanted them to make new memories of the new bazaars and new traditions with them.

I hope all fathers and those in fathering roles, will just embrace the journey through the chaos and hectic schedule of Raya preparation, and like me savour the moment, soak in the atmosphere and continue to build upon the bonds created during Ramadan with our children and our families. That’s what Raya means to me now.

#zhulrahim #daddiesmustbesteady


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