Another great thing here in Singapore this year, and not just for Muslims, is that the 8th falls on a Thursday. The next day Friday 9th of August is our National Day, so that’s two back to back public holidays leading to the weekend. For non-Muslims, I’m sure many have delightedly grabbed the oppurtunity a long weekend presents to enjoy a short holiday. For us Muslims, it’s a great bonus too as it means much more time to visit our relatives, which is really helpful because there are usually a lot of people to set aside time for to visit. And that’s what Hari Raya is most synonymous with. Family, relatives, visiting.
The first day is the most important and usually it is spent with one’s parents. That was the norm with my family too, when my parents were alive. Like most other Asians I think we usually live with them as long as we’re single, and most move out only once married. So on Hari Raya, my married siblings with their spouses and kids would flock to my parents’ residence to hang out together. Of course there are the spouse’s parents to think of too, so I think to be fair they would alternate whose parents to spend the first day with. If both sets of parents are located in tiny and compact Singapore, lucky for them, they get to visit both on the first day.
The custom is also that aunts and uncles and of course grandparents are also visited as a mark of respect, so that’s done or attempted in the next few days. If those days are working weekdays, it can get tiring as the visiting may be done in the evenings after work. So sometimes this is delayed till the next weekend. And sometimes schedules conflict because aunts and uncles may be out working themselves, or they are busy doing their own visiting too. Thank goodness for handphones.
So that’s why sometimes Hari Raya ‘celebration’ seems like it goes on for weeks.
In previous years when I visited, I had less than ten aunts and uncles to cover, and yet I rarely could cover all in those first few days of visiting. And frankly I only went because one of my sisters always kindly invited me to join her, along with her husband and two grown-up daughters. Otherwise I don’t think I would because I would just feel too awkward to go alone as a single man. (The partner tends to come along when I visit siblings he is familiar and comfortable with. Otherwise he can’t be bothered, and anyway it would be weird if he comes too.) Like other unmarried people gay or straight, I just can’t stand being asked over and over why I’m single, and I imagine I would be cornered and lectured if alone. Well, not really. My aunts and uncles are all incredibly sweet people who would never want to make me feel uncomfortable. They are very polite and diplomatic. But I’m just not good with small talk. My sister, who has a huge heart, is very social and takes real pleasure in doing this, visiting and chatting and keeping in touch with relatives. So I just let her do all the ‘work’ and just contribute the odd sentence or so, haha.
It would seem easy to just have one huge party where everyone try to make it and have it done there and then. But such gatherings already happen in the form of weddings. With an extensive network of relatives, there always seem to be a few weddings happening each year. The exclusive visits to the elder relatives is just a Hari Raya custom as one way to show respect, to sit down together and talk, and catch up for a few hours.
For those with kids (the great majority of my cousins are married with kids), it is also to teach and encourage the younger generation to maintain this tradition, to get to know and be well-acquainted with relatives, to build and value relationships with them. Also, as a cousin of mine once pointed out, previously it was common to have, say, five or more children in a household of our parents’ generation. So a kid would have many siblings to turn to for love and support. But with the average of only two kids more common since about two decades ago, relationships and closeness with cousins and other relatives outside the immediate household is now more important and desirable than ever.