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Hari Raya: A Holiday for Some, Another Day at Work for Others

by Deana Zafir

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As a third culture kid, Hari Raya has always been a little different. We weren’t always sure if we’d be able to spend the day as a holiday. It might sound like sacrilege to some Singaporean Muslims. But unfortunately, not everyone gets a day off during the traditional holidays.


Third Culture Kid

A third culture kid is someone who grew up in a country that’s different from their parents. 

Hari Raya: The Teenage Years  



I spent most of my teenage years in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I know what you’re thinking. What’s so different about Malaysia?  Well, for starters, I didn’t go to a national school for one. I grew up in an international school surrounded by people from different countries. Unlike the typical Singaporean, I adopted a neutral American accent (thanks to my friends). Oh! And instead of Raya, we called Hari Raya, Eid. 

When I lived in Kuala Lumpur, Hari Raya to me was marked by an 8-hour long car ride. Accompanied by the traditional Raya songs from my dad’s iPhone of course. But sometimes, the first day of Raya was spent at home with a bowl of delicious Briyani Dum whilst watching YouTube videos. Because we had to wait for my dad to come home from work and finally start our Raya festivities.

But that’s ok! Sometimes, we’d have to delay the holiday and celebrate Hari Raya slightly later than usual, and we’d just shrug it off. Because unlike Christmas, Hari Raya wasn’t tied to just one day. It’s a month-long holiday and celebrating it a few days later didn’t really make a difference.


Hari Raya: The Australian Years


As a young adult, I was lucky enough to spend part of my youth in Melbourne, Australia. Unlike my teenage years, Eid in Melbourne was spent being dragged to unfamiliar houses. And sitting quietly in the corner until I spotted a familiar face from my earlier travels.

Do you know that in Melbourne, adults will give you candy instead of green packets? I think it was then that I truly started to appreciate green packets. Even those measly $2 ones.

But sitting in unfamiliar houses and getting bags of candy was much better than the alternatives. Unfortunately, there were also some days when I had to spend Raya at University. We tried making the best out of it though!

Just like the traditional Malay family in Singapore, my Eid eves were spent cleaning the house and cooking the same dishes my mother would make. And I’d share them with my foreign housemates. The festivities would continue even in University. We’d exchange little goodie bags filled with candy. Little things like listening to Malay Raya music on the train back from University made the day slightly more special. Celebrating a traditional holiday away from your community or family doesn’t always have to be a sad affair. Even hearing simple greetings such as “Happy Eid” or “Selamat Hari Raya” was good enough. Some acknowledgment is always better than no acknowledgment. 


People don’t tell you this but family can be forged anywhere. You can create a little family out of your friends, colleagues, and even your neighbours. A family outside your family - to celebrate with. Having a second family to celebrate your traditions with made Raya away from Singapore enjoyable. But every year, no matter how troublesome, I’d make the effort to return to spend a few days in Singapore. And just like every other Muslim-Malay family in Singapore, I’d end the month sick of all the kuihs. Plus I’d always be 3 kgs heavier. Damn those delicious kuihs. And those sweet, gassy drinks.

Final Thoughts

I wrote this piece because I believe that most Muslim Singaporeans are not aware that some people within our community don’t have the luxury of celebrating the first few days of Raya.

If you happen to know a Muslim colleague working on the first day of Raya. Here are 5 things you can do to make their day slightly MORE festive:

1. Wish them!  

It doesn’t have to be elaborate. A simple, “hey, Happy Hari Raya man” is sufficient! It’s just nice to have colleagues be mindful of the different traditions our diverse workplace and country has.

2. Make Raya jokes!  

Cheesy Raya jokes are one way to perk somebody up! In fact, I find cheesy jokes a lot funnier than “smart” jokes. Maybe it’s because I have a terrible sense of humour. I can’t help but crack a smile when someone older than me jokingly asks for their green packets.  

There’s even a list of pick up lines for you to use on your crush if they’re celebrating the traditional holiday. Click here for more cheesy pick-up lines.

3. Hand Out Raya Appropriate Gifts!  



Everyone loves gifts! Especially if it’s food related. If you’re feeling particularly charitable, try giving out a few kuihs or pieces of chocolate. Who knows, you might receive some delicious handmade kuihs in return for your generosity.

4. Let Them Play Raya Music

If your workplace or office has a speaker, ask your Muslim colleagues if they’d like to play a list of their favourite Hari Raya songs. Some common Hari Raya songs that you’ll hear everywhere include:

A. Balik Kampung - Sudirman
You’ve probably shouted this at several people when you’re angry. But Balik Kampung is a classic Hari Raya song that’s easy to sing along to.

B. Sesuci Lebaran - Siti Nurhaliza  
If you don’t know who Siti Nurhaliza is, you’ve probably been living under a rock. The song features a Malay irama (beat) that will even get the stiffest of dancers swaying to the beat.

C. Satu Hari Di Hari Raya - M Nasir
Satu Hari Di Hari Raya (One Day on Hari Raya) evokes an air of spirituality. This song is the ultimate definition of happy-sad.

D. Menjelang Hari Raya - DJ Dave  
The classic Hari Raya song. Crafted in the 80s, the song features some disco undertones to get your feet tapping whilst indulging in some kuih.

5. Decorate Your Workspace  



We prep for Hari Raya the same way other races prep for their traditional holidays. By spring cleaning! Ask your colleague if they’d like to join you in your mission to tidy up your desk or the communal work area. You can make your workspace much more festive by adding some decorative ketupats. It’ll add some Raya jush to the office.

How do you celebrate Hari Raya away from the family? Let us know in the comments section below!

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