When it was announced that the “circuit breaker” period was going to be extended till Jun 1, it felt like I had been delivered two major blows.
The first: My plans to hold a small family gathering to celebrate my birthday were now completely dashed. The second blow only hit me a little later, when it dawned upon me that the extension now ate into the first week of Hari Raya Puasa, which begins on May 24.
“Hari Raya is cancelled!” I gasped, much to the annoyance of my family members who were watching Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech with me.
“Don’t be dramatic. Hari Raya lasts for a month,” reminded my ever-optimistic mum, a firm believer that the glass is always half-full.
She was right. I do have a tendency to be overly dramatic (I chalk that up to middle child syndrome), and Hari Raya does last a month, so if the circuit breaker doesn’t get extended, we’ll still get to celebrate it in some form or other, with safe distancing measures in place.
Waking up on Hari Raya morning clearly won't be the same this year.
Still, anyone who celebrates Hari Raya understands that the first day is always the most exciting. And waking up on Hari Raya morning clearly won't be the same this year.
There won't be the same sense of excitement as I put on my carefully picked out baju kurung (always the best outfit on Day 1). Should I even bother to buy something new in the first place?
After all, we won't be heading to my grandmother’s place for lontong and rendang, where my aunts, uncles and cousins usually gather. After which, we won't be commencing our usual morning-to-night marathon of house visits, where more raya dishes and an endless assortment of kueh await.
As my family’s designated kueh taster – I usually take one for the team and sample all the kueh laid out before us at every house, before telling my sisters which are actually worth the calories – does this mean that I won't have a job to do this year?
My growing waistline will probably be grateful, but this is a task I take much pride in.
THE ESSENCE OF THE SEASON
We’re now into Week 5 of the circuit breaker and, dramatic tendencies aside, I’ve had a little more time to accept that Hari Raya 2020 is certainly going to be different. In fact, with all the time on my hands to reflect on the true essence of the season, it dawned upon me that this year’s celebration might be even more meaningful.
If you strip away all the fanfare, to me, the Hari Raya season is really all about one important thing: The togetherness of family. It’s what makes the holiday feel so special – the chance to visit relatives, as close as first aunts and uncles, and as distant as third cousins, whom you don’t typically see the entire year.
If you strip away all the fanfare, the Hari Raya season is really all about one important thing: The togetherness of family.
While visiting extended relatives isn't going to happen this year, the circuit breaker has given me more time to spend with my immediate family in the lead up to Hari Raya. And I'm grateful for it.
Enforced time at home has meant that I can break fast with my family every day of Ramadan. There have certainly been days in other years where I've been stuck in the office and can't make it back in time.
HARI RAYA PREP AND ZOOM VISITS
I’ll also be able to get more involved with Hari Raya prep, like helping my mum to bake our family’s pineapple tarts, instead of just enjoying the end product after being “too busy” with work or maintaining a social life.
We’ve decided to attempt to bake my late aunt’s kek lapis (layered cake) this year. Ever since she passed on a few years ago, no one in my family has attempted her recipe. My aunt and her delicious kek lapis have been sorely missed, and it will be nice to reminisce about the time we spent with her.
We may be cooped up at home on Hari Raya day itself, but my family will still keep the festive spirit alive. The usual raya dishes, like lontong, rendang and sambal goreng, will still be on the table. There will still be an exchange of forgiveness, an important Hari Raya custom.
We’ve discussed dressing up for the occasion and having a gathering over Zoom.
And despite not being able to see my in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my older sister who lives abroad, we can always get creative on how we can celebrate together despite being physically apart.
In our family Whatsapp group chat, we’ve discussed dressing up for the occasion and having a gathering over Zoom. I mentioned that we could perhaps save money on buying new baju kurungs this year, as we’d only need the top – before realising that traditional garments are usually sold in a set.
MAINTAINING FAMILIAL BONDS
It is this physical distance that has made me feel even more connected to my relatives than ever before. Despite being separated, we’ve still found ways to show our care for each other.
We've had food sent to our doorstep (contactless, of course). We constantly check on each other, whether it’s by texts or calls. Maybe we’ve taken being able to see each other for granted all these years. Maybe we needed to be apart for a little while to feel closer.
When we’re finally able to meet again, I know exchanging hugs with my relatives, and shaking the hands of my elders will feel even more special.
So this Hari Raya, I’m taking a leaf out of my mum’s book and looking at the glass as half-full. It may be a quieter celebration with just my husband, parents and younger sister, but I’m looking forward to smiling as we relive memories of previous celebrations.
Hari Raya 2020 may be different, but it will truly be one for the books.