Eid al-fitr

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Malaysiana

**********

In Malaysia, Eid al-fitr, a religious holiday that marks the end of a month of fasting, is commonly referred to as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and this year it falls on the 25th of June. Being a non-Muslim in a Muslim country, you can’t help but be entrenched in the rhythm and practices of this holiday. Here are several things to know about how Eid al-fitri or Aidilfitri is celebrated in Malaysia:

#1. We get a looooong holiday – This year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri will fall on a Sunday. In Malaysia, whenever a festival falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is the public holiday. For this particular festival though, we get TWO days off, so Tuesday’s also a holiday! Long weekend!

#2. Bazaars pop up during the fasting month – During the fasting month of Ramadan, food or Ramadan bazaars pop up in and around the city. These bazaars start setting up at about 3pm (or earlier) and folks on the way home after work would stop by to get food to break their fast with. One key difference between Ramadan bazaars and other food bazaars is that eager customers will be able to find their favourite food that only appears during Ramadan, food like bubur lambuk, a type of porridge.

#3. Change in working hours – Working hours differ for those celebrating Aidilfitri. Since they spend the day fasting, their lunch duration is shortened (normally by 30 minutes) which means they get to go home earlier to prepare to break their fast!

#4. Homemade firecrackers make the news – Most firecrackers and fireworks are banned in Malaysia. However, since we’re an innovative lot, folks make their own firecrackers. Yep, DIY firecrackers. And since these DIY firecrackers do not go through stringent safety and health testing, etc… they often perform unpredictably. This is when the news start reporting about “…15-year old boy loses 4 fingers playing with his homemade firecrackers…” or …”9-year old boy loses 3 fingers and tore his palm while playing with firecrackers…” Some of these DIY firecrackers are made from bamboo!

a91b29f83345d4ed#5. Dates abound – Supermarkets start selling dates by the caseloads. And I mean all kinds of dates – medjool, dayri, thoory. Most restaurants will also have a small plate of dates on the table for those who break their fast. After an entire day of fasting, the body may experience lethargy and low blood sugar. Starting off with dates before digging in to richer food is a good way to replenish the body.

If you celebrate Eid, what are the traditions practiced in your country? Also, do you eat dates?

10 Things To Know About Chinese New Year in Malaysia

Chinese New Year is this weekend and where I’m from, it’s a major festival. Every one joins in the celebrations in one way or another, and you don’t even have to be Chinese to enjoy the festive occasion. Here’s what happens in my neck of the woods when Chinese New Year rolls around.

#1. We get a holiday – Though Chinese New Year falls on a Saturday this year, the entire country is granted a holiday the following Monday which means it’ll be a 3-day weekend for me!

#2. Stalls selling Mandarin oranges pop up – It’s customary to give out Mandarin oranges to colleagues at work and to folks who visit your house during Chinese New Year. These oranges are typically sold at supermarkets and roadside stalls which pop up specifically for this festival. There are often multiple stalls along the same stretch of road, all of which peddle these oranges and all of them would be able to turn a profit.

mandarin-oranges
So many oranges. So many. (Source: The Star Online)

#3. Lion/ Dragon dancers are every where – They’re in shopping malls, in the back of trucks on the streets en route to their next gig and even at your local watering hole. You know Chinese New Year is fast approaching when these dancers with their white t-shirts and colourful pants that supposedly mimic a lion’s/ dragon’s legs show up almost every where.

#4. Streets in the city centre are exceptionally clear – This is one of my favourite things about Chinese New Year. Traffic jams in the city has gotten from bad to worse and it’s only when folks leave the city for their hometowns that I’m willing to drive into the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

#5. Highways leaving the city centre turn into parking lots (almost) – During Chinese New Year (and all other major holidays), commuters returning to their hometowns pack the highways. A regular 2-hour trip home can turn into a 5 hour journey from hell! The congestion is so bad that one year, authorities issued a Travel Time Advisory which recommended times to get on the road depending on where you’re heading. 

traffic_jam_seremban-kuala_pilah_0807
Imagine getting stuck in that traffic with no toilet in sight (Source: The Malay Mail Online)

#6. Retail stores and banks give out (almost) free ang pow packets – Giving ang pows (red envelopes stuffed with money) is a key activity during Chinese New Year. Well, other than eating, drinking and playing mahjong. In recent years, shopping malls and banks stock ang pow packets for their customers and these are where folks tend to get them from. The packets aren’t entirely free if you intend to get them from shopping malls though. Shoppers would need to spend a pre-determined amount before redemption of the ang pow packets are allowed.

#7. Folks exchange their old bank notes for new ones – It’s traditional to use crisp, new notes when handing out ang pows. Hence, the long lines at the banks before Chinese New Year as folks come in with stacks of old bills to exchange for new ones. Apparently every year, the central bank has to print an additional 500 million pieces of the smaller denomination banknotes to meet the demand for new notes!

#8. Almost everyone organises an open house – Eating is a national past time and open houses are basically an opportunity to eat all you can for free! This tradition encourages family and friends to visit one another’s homes to celebrate together. Even companies and government agencies have started organising open houses to which the general public is invited.

#9. Eateries serve some variation of yee sang – In the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, expect to see some variation of yee sang or the prosperity toss in any eatery you visit. Apparently, this cultural activity is unique to both Singapore and Malaysia as it’s not practiced as much in other countries.

#10. You hear firecrackers eventhough it’s illegal – Yep, fireworks are illegal in Malaysia. Unless you have a permit. I don’t think the homes in my neighbourhood who light up their firecrackers applied for one though. Yet, I go to sleep on the eve of Chinese New Year listening to a barrage of fireworks. All night long.