After 30 days of fasting, on September 10th Ramadhan finally came to an end with what is called “Hari Raya” (the Big Day), “ Idul Fitri” (also known as Eid ul-Fitr in Arabic, meaning festivity of purification), or more informally “Lebaran” (religious holiday).
As Indonesia is the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, it is widely celebrated here and everyone here has been anticipating and preparing for this day in a fashion that is comparable to Christmas in the states. It is really exciting! There are so many traditions that lead up to this one day and even more traditions on Hari Raya itself. I’m going to try to start from the beginning and work my way up to September 10th.
First, of course, the majority of the population fasts for 30 days before Idul Fitri as I mentioned before. So, at the end of the fast, there are many preparations for a big feast to celebrate the end of the fasting month. Two days before , we started making “ketupat”, which are diamond shaped rice holders made of woven palm leaves. On Wednesday, I sat for hours with my sister and brother-in-law making ketupat, eating krupuk (fried chip-like snacks made of rice flour), and listening to Indonesian and Hindi music by candle-light (because the power had gone out). It was a lot of fun!
After those are made, the next day rice is cooked inside these little holders in preparation for the big feast the next day. Rice is also cooked in banana leaves twisted into a cone shape, this is called “lontong”. During this holiday, it is common to make chicken, so everyone either kills chickens that they already have or buys chicken from the market and it is prepared curry-style with coconut milk and various spices. This is eaten with the lontong and ketupat rice dishes.
These preparations are all made the day before, but on the actual day of Idul Fitri, people wake up early, around 4:30 am and have something to eat to symbolize that they are no longer fasting, then they go to the mosque to pray together. On Friday morning I put on my kebaya (traditional Javanese outfit) and went to the mosque with my host family and the rest of the village. Friday was the first sunny morning we had all week, so it was breathtaking to watch the sun rise over the village, the rice fields, and all of the neighbors’ homes on our walk to the big green mosque. Once at the mosque, most of the neighbors were pleasantly surprised to see me there as well, but they were all so welcoming! I sat next to some of the little girls in the village who come to my home for English lessons and they showed me how to wear the “rukuh”, a white outfit that women wear over their clothes while praying, and how to follow along with the prostrations. Even the rukuh, though all of them are white and cover the entire body, are all a little different too. Each has its own decorations or designs to show the taste and style of its owner. The service itself was short and quite beautiful. Seeing the entire community come together to honor the end of an important season for them, praying together, was really kind of neat. Then at the end, we greet our neighbors and everyone goes back home.
After the prayer at the mosque, it is common for people to change into new clothes they have bought for the occasion. This is a big shopping season here. All of the stores are packed with shoppers, the markets have tons of new clothes to buy, and everywhere you look there are “Lebaran” and “Idul Fitri” sales! Men usually wear “baju koko” a nehru-collared type long or short-sleeve shirt with embroidered designs and a sarong with a plaid pattern of similar color to the shirt, and a “peci” hat. Women wear “kebaya krudung” an outfit consisting of a loose-fitting blouse, a long skirt, and a jilbab. If you’ve seen my pictures, its the traditional outfits my friends and I were wearing with the red top and batik pattern skirt (with the funny hair-do).
After changing, everyone goes to their relatives houses and neighbors houses and asks for forgiveness for any sins they have committed in the past and will commit in the future. I really like the idea of taking a day out to specifically ask for forgiveness and let everyone start over with a completely clean slate. It’s nice to get old grudges out of the way and start the next chapter in peace and harmony. It is common for people to take part in “pulang kampung” (literally go home to the village) or “mudik” which means that people travel back to their home towns in order to visit their relatives. This can be a quick trip, just to stop by and give holiday greetings to your relatives, or it can be a longer trip where family travel and stay at the homes of other relatives. Because of Indonesia’s population size, this is one of the largest human migrations in the world as people travel to ask forgiveness from their relatives. On Friday I went to all of the relatives of my family members and asked for forgiveness, then as the weekend continued and I had more time, I also went to the homes of the neighbors and asked forgiveness from them as well.
Not only is this a time to “minta maaf” (ask forgiveness), it’s also a time to eat. A LOT. I have had so much cookies, chips, sweet tea, rice, chicken, and so much more forced upon me in the last few days! It seems like they are trying to make up for 30 days of missing meals by forcing you to eat a bunch now! It’s great, but it’s been nonstop for 3 days and I’m a little tired from the act of eating itself. But it’s rude not to eat, and when people come to my house I force them to eat as well, so I guess I’ll just deal with it.
Another Idul Fitri tradition is that there is a mandatory salary bonus for all employees, so all of the teachers at the school were given a nice big bonus before their two weeks of holiday. As I am a volunteer and am not allowed to receive cash, I was given about 200,000 Rupiah worth of candy, wafers, chocolate, cookies, soft drinks, juice...it was amazing! Add that to the sugar I’ve had in the last few days and I’m a diabetic now for sure.
This day really reminds me of Christmas or Easter morning in the states. Everyone wakes up early in the morning, we go to church with the family, then we come home and go to relatives homes to give out gifts, on Christmas, or candy, on Easter, and offer holiday greetings. It’s a day filled with family, food, friends, and fun. It really made me miss my family, but the hospitality of all the neighbors here helped me to see that I’m also gaining a new family here as well and it’s really touching to know that.
There are so many traditions that are great about this holiday...visiting relatives, everyone gathering together to prepare and eat a lot of great food, buying new clothes, getting money (or sugar), but the most important and the best tradition is asking for forgiveness from everyone around you. So, in the spirit of Ramadhan I would like to say “Mohon maaf lahir dan batin” (I ask forgiveness from birth and in all my actions) and I would like to ask forgiveness of all of my past sins. If I have wronged any of you in any way I am sincerely sorry and hope to not commit those same mistakes again.
Selamat Idul Fitri!