The Joy of Fasting
After 30 days of dawn-to-dusk fasting during Ramadan, the first three days of Hari Raya Aidilfitri are celebrated on a grand scale. While Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations are colourful and fascinating, you should take note that the fasting month leading up to the holiday is probably the best time to experience the Malay culture and heritage.
For Muslims, the month of Ramadan is devoted to worship, charitable deeds and acts of compassion. To purify one’s body and soul, they practice abstinence from food and drink during the day. When the sun sets, families and friends often gather to break the fast with evening prayers and meals, and the streets of Geylang Serai and Kampong Glam come alive with performances and street bazaars. If you’re in Singapore during Ramadan, this is the best times to soak in the festivities. Head to the Malay Village in Geylang Serai or make your way to Kampong Glam, an area that was once home to Singapore’s Malay royalty. Both ethnic enclaves attract Singaporeans of all races, and wherever you’re from, you’re welcome to take part in the celebrations.
Besides the glittering street light-ups and traditional decorations, you’ll find street stalls that open from early afternoon till late into the night, selling a wide variety of traditional food, fashion, textiles and handicrafts. From tailor-made traditional dresses known as ‘baju kurung’ to hand-woven cushion covers, from affordable Persian carpets to delightful flower arrangements, you’re bound to find a keepsake of the festivities. In Geylang Serai, you’ll also find stalls that personalise key chains and door signs for the home, all engraved and painted by hand on finely-crafted wood.
The main attraction of the bazaars is, of course, the food. A trip to the bazaars is simply not complete without sampling the variety of traditional Malay cakes and pastries called ‘kueh-kueh’. Take your pick from sweet snacks like pineapple tarts, ‘ondeh-ondeh’ made with palm sugar filled centres, and ‘putu piring’, a steamed dessert served with grated coconut.
When Hari Raya Aidilfitri arrives, Muslim families often dress in the same colour to signify their unity. The men wear a loose shirt with trousers known as ‘baju Melayu’ and the women wear the quintessential ‘baju kurung’. If you’re lucky enough, you might get an invite to a home-cooked Hari Raya Aidilfitri feast. A wide variety of spicy dishes are traditionally served during the three-day celebration, including spicy beef ‘rendang’, vegetable curry ‘sayur lodeh’ and Malay rice cakes called ‘ketupat’.
If you’re in Singapore during Ramadan, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the rich Malay heritage, and when Hari Raya Aidilfitri comes around, greet everyone with a joyous “Selamat Hari Raya”.