Rio and I took a lovely holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan last month. Oherwise known as “Eid” or “Idul Fitri” globally, but locally in Indonesia it is referred to as “Lebaran”. Lebaran is a three day holiday where families visit one another to eat, be merry, and also share “Uang Lebaran” or wealth. Indonesians, and Muslims in general, will greet one another in this time by asking for forgiveness in order to clear the last year of heartache or transgressions with the phrase “Minal aidin wal fa idzin” which I’m sure my American accent brought laughter to many. I mostly ended up slowly and carefully attempting to repeat the phrase with such concentrated effort that the spirit of the saying was rather lacking.
Speaking to Muslims from around the world, I’ve found that the rules of exchanging Uang Lebaran or Eid money differ from culture to culture. Sometimes wealth is spread to those younger or your children, no matter how old they grow. In other countries and cultures wealth is simply spread to those who do not have it and children. In others yet money is given to elders as a sign of respect and support. For our own family, the rules are engaged as thus: those who are young or who do not earn much are given money. We also chipped in money to give to the local mosque so that they could buy and give away food to the nearby needy community. A charitable act I felt kinship to since my grandfather for many years ran the Sunday morning canteen from their Protestant church.
I puzzled over the best way to show my support and so I Googled “Eid envelopes” to look for designs. I found most envelopes sported the term “Eid Mubarak” which is the traditional greeting, and set to decorating the envelopes we were to present to our elders and children with the phrase. My in laws’ extended family read the envelope and decided that “Mubarak” must be my token Muslim name I’ve taken after conversion. The perfect cultural misunderstanding. Turns out “Selamat hari Raya Idul Fitri” is the traditional Indonesian and Malaysian greeting on this auspicious holiday.
So what is Eid like in Indonesia? The cities empty out as businesses close and everyone returns to home usually in far away villages often taking an entire day of travel by train, flight, bus, or ojek. It is akin to the mass exodus made by Americans to return home for Christmas. Our friends report the streets of Jakarta were free of traffic, and quiet reigns on a level not otherwise observed for the rest of the year in the bustling, developing capital. Likewise in Bandung on the first day of Eid, we saw clear roads and post after post of metal shutters closed over what are usually bustling street shops. However we ourselves were not stationed inside a city for the calm. The Puzzled Pilgrim team returned back to our home of Gresik, a small industrial town 40 minutes outside of Surabaya.
During Eid we visited family homes nearby. The length of the visit depends on different qualities like age, wealth, how close you are related, or how high ranking are the family members being visited. So old women, or couples that are made of first sons of a branch of a family usually command more time and respect. Inversely, if YOU are the first son you have to stay places longer since you’re considered responsible for maintaining family relations. This is a pretty clinical explanation of what was otherwise a very friendly and pleasant visit to relatives we haven’t seen since our move to Jakarta back in December of 2015.
We also spend a lot of time eating! Indonesians always prepare a beautiful spread of snacks and drinks are always offered when you arrive at one’s house. It is rude not to eat so be prepared to dig in when you are making the rounds if you find yourself celebrating Lebaran. The most typical snack we found in the tens of homes we visited were Kue Nastar, tiny pineapple tarts about the size of your thumb. There’s a wonderful recipe here if you’d like to try your hand. Other tasty items included fried chicken intestine (don’t knock it till you try it!), roasted peanuts, commercial chocolate snacks, and even home made cotton candy.
We also were invited to accompany are our brother in law’s (sister’s husband) home out in Tulungagung, 4.5 hours drive south of Gresik. There the family owned several plots of land complete with a set of cows, chickens, rice fields and a ceramic factory. The site serves as a huge agricultural community that once was a powerful asset to Dutch sugar trade. We just hopped onto a motorcycle and went around looking at the houses and fields. Whenever kids saw my white face they’d start laughing and everyone smiling! A few adults were shocked as well. One of the women I waved to on the street ended up being an elder we went to visit later. All in all it was a wonderful trip into some of the smaller communities that make up Indonesia. We’ll be sharing more of our trip to Tulungagung and the staple of Indonesian cuisine in an upcoming post.