It might be a tough question. If you’re celebrating Hari Raya, how would you go about it this year in lockdown? We asked Shirena, a mother who’d previously loved to celebrate Ramadhan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri. How did she and her family experience the celebrations this year?
To be honest, being busy with homeschooling and work, it was the last thing on my mind. Like every other celebration, it is always about getting family together. I felt sad about the possibility of not being able to see some of my family members for Hari Raya Aidilfitri. So I began to think: what can I do to make this memorable for my family? And especially for my children, who still do not quite understand the complexities of why the world has become different.
Traditions in our multicultural family
The first thing that came to my mind was making Hari Raya cookies and decorations. My kids and I bake together very often, so having them in the kitchen to make jam tarts was easy. I have a memory of making tarts with my mom and my maternal grandmother for Hari Raya, so for the children to help me is a wonderful way to celebrate this tradition. I loved teaching my eldest (who loves cooking) my grandmother’s special recipe. This year, I made it a point to tell stories of how I enjoyed making tarts as a child for them. My grandmother was Chinese and celebrated Hari Raya with us, so it was a chance to talk about how multicultural we are as a family. My youngest really enjoyed using the tarts cookie cutter and made a whole tray by herself.
Every year, during Ramadhan when we are fasting, I will usually organise several days of preparing for Hari Raya with my mom. This will include doing the groceries for ingredients together, and then going to her place for cooking sessions. While I love cooking, I always lean on my mom for advice and support. Some of the recipes have been passed down our family and cooking together will ensure that I will not make any mistakes. More importantly, one day I can hopefully make everything on my own and host my own open houses. I guess this year will be the year I finally push myself to stand on my own feet and get cooking. If I don’t get to see my extended family members during Hari Raya, at least I will be able to celebrate with an intimate lunch with my own family at home.
A Hari Raya open house is all about food. My parents are from Johor. It is a tradition for us to serve Laksa Johor to family and friends on the first day of Raya. My mother learned how to make this dish from my paternal grand aunty, who was an excellent cook. The main ingredient for Laksa Johor is ikan parang. It’s not easy to find under the circumstances, but we were very lucky to source the fish. The gravy is a blend of many different spices, prawns and ikan parang. When cooked, the aroma and fragrance fills my home, telling everyone Raya is near. Like many sauces and gravies, the best part about Laksa Johor is that I can freeze it. So we usually make enough (and a little more) for the whole family very early on, to spread out the work load during Ramadhan. Again, my eldest helped me this year with blending the spices together. While we did this, I shared more stories. This time about my father’s side of the family and how my mother learned the recipe.
… and some more dishes…
Some other dishes we make for Hari Raya are rendang, lemang, ketupat and lontong. We can definitely make these, as ingredients are easy to find. In all honestly, my dearest mom will usually step in and help make some for our whole family too.
Even though we will probably not have any guests over for Hari Raya this year, we will definitely still decorate the house, as we do for every other celebration. While I still cannot weave a ketupat without a tutorial from my mom, we have started doing some arts and craft. This includes weaving coloured paper to make ketupat streamers. My youngest thoroughly enjoyed this activity and I am certain the house will look ready for Hari Raya.
Something for everyone
My son has not quite been involved as I started to write this article and document my preparations. He asked me today: “Mommy, what should I do?” I asked him if he wanted to try and make different types of cookies or a dish, but he wasn’t keen. I asked if he would like to make some decorations but he was not interested in that either. But when my mom called and said: “I made some lemang, would Ayden like some?”, he screamed: “Yes, yes, yes!” So I am happy to say that he will definitely be enjoying the festivities with all the food that we will be having at home soon.
A different experience
The biggest difference for me in preparing for Hari Raya during lockdown, is that I made it a point this year to include my children in everything. Without having any distractions, I was able to share so much more about family traditions, and childhood stories. This will be a Raya to remember for us. Even though we will not be able to enjoy the usual hustle and bustle of festivities, we will certainly be able to appreciate more time as a family together.
Shirena Hamzah, the author of this article, is the founder and principal of Dancesteps Studio.