Monday, September 21, 2009

reminiscing our tradition : the night before raya & the way it used to be...

every family has their own traditions, especially when it comes to celebrations. for as long as i can remember, one of our family traditions was to have dinner together the night before hari raya/eid...or more like the night hari raya would be determined.

after a long month of fasting, the whole family would gather at my grandparents' lovely spanish-villa-inspired house & break fast together.


even back then, our family was very large. my grandparents raised their six children plus my adopted mum, with an age gap of roughly 20 years between the eldest child & the youngest. thankfully my late grandfather had the hindsight to build an exceptionally large dining room to accommodate all his children and grandchildren. the adults would sit at the large long dining table and the kids would sit at the smaller one (as the years went by and the family grew even larger, the seating arrangements still remained but the tables were replaced with bigger ones).

after a cheerful (and usually very loud) dinner, the children would then adjourn to the driveway & light firecrackers & sparklers whilst the adults catch up with each other on the marble steps of the grand porch. shortly after, the younger adults would bring out the more "hardcore" firecrackers & we would countdown and cheer as they exploded, beautifully decorating the sky with brightly coloured flares. one of the firecrackers i distinctly remember was the one that would shoot out a tiny parachute which we would all rush to catch as it fell from the sky. the winner of course, gets to take the measly prize home!

familiar malay songs of the muslim celebration could be heard emanating from the green room as we so fondly referred to the additional guest living room back then. the room had green leather sofas and green curtains for windows overlooking the driveway. my grandmother would usually sit there & watch us from a distance.

at around half past eight, someone would call us in from inside the house & we would gather in front of the telly, in anticipation of the announcement of hari raya. at times it was good news which meant no more fasting the next day...and other times, the bad news meant another day of fasting to which us kids would moan & groan about...

the night would then go on for another couple of hours until the last cracker was lit and then it was time to head back to our individual family homes.

fast forward about 15 years & i am now close to thirty & married with a child of my own; the younger adults i mentioned above have added more to my list of young cousins; my older cousins have more kids than me. so you can imagine how much larger the family has grown & we still religiously practice this tradition. in fact, just a few days ago, we sat down together to break fast. but oh, how times have changed us. and when i say "us" i don't just mean each person's character but also the ritual itself.

the patriarch of the family (my late grandfather) is no longer around (though i'd like to think he is watching us from the heavens above). the matriarch (my grandmother) is unwell & is just overwhelmed and happy with the fact that her usually empty & quiet house is filled up with family even if it's just for one night.

the dining room is still very much the same but the two tables have "grown" & there is an additional one squeezed in between the two for the much younger kids. the adults (my parents' generation) still conquer the larger table despite the much much larger one in the next room, which is almost never used as it has always been the formal dining room purely for entertaining important guests of my grandparents. old habits die hard i suppose. us "kids" are no longer kids but have yet to be promoted to the "adults" table. our kids sit at the tiny new table & the even younger kids of ours don't even have anywhere to sit so they either take turns or willingly eat in the playroom upstairs with their respective nannies.

after dinner, the kids still adjourn to play firecrackers but sadly the adults (including my generation) remain in the dining room until it is time to leave. the kids no longer play in the driveway as we used to as our larger family means more cars which take up more space so they make do with the garden instead. unfortunately, they don't play with their parents but they are chaperoned by the numerous nannies of our family. the only sounds that can be heard are the crackling of the fireworks and the loud laughter of the adults. the green room is gone and the music is no longer playing & has long died, so to speak.

the announcement of hari raya on the telly has become a formality & no one bothers with it anymore. with all the astrological technology & opportunity lost which comes from not knowing which day hari raya falls on, i suspect the dates are fixed at the beginning of each year, if not earlier.

as much as i find this such a shame, i am also guilty of playing a role in contributing to the adjustment of our yearly ritual. i guess as we grew older & the dynamics of the simple world (as i knew it) changed, my generation became accustomed to what some people refer to as the bourgeois or even aristocratic lifestyle. we work hard to upkeep our high maintenance lifestyles & we value our precious time...hence we have a string of nannies to assist in looking after our kids & maids to clean the house. we get caught up in our own lives & we don't see each other very much. and then we try to make up for it by catching up not just over dinner but the rest of the night....and in the process, delegate the responsibility of chaperoning our kids to the nannies. or perhaps we have just gotten used to having the nannies around. either way, i can't help it but at times, i do wonder if this would or might affect how our kids develop & turn out later in life.

bear in mind, i observe this in comparison to the reminiscence of my own childhood & the way our tradition was back then...or how my memory registers it to be. in reality, our kids honestly know no better & play joyfully with each other with large cheshire smiles beaming on their innocent faces. and when all's said & done, i suppose that's more important than having things the way they used to be...and for all i know, our parents lived the tradition differently too when they were growing up & probably thought the same of ours....and we turned out pretty ok...i think ;)

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