Idul Fitri is the Indonesian name for the Islamic holiday: Eid. Indonesians also frequently refer to Eid as Lebaran. Eid falls on the first day of Shawwal in the Islamic calendar. Shawwal is the month immediately following Ramadan. This holiday is celebrated throughout the Muslim world. Eid festivities and traditions vary by region, but they typically consist of lots of food, praying, reading the Quran, and gatherings of family.
The Lebaran celebrations and activities typically go on for several days leading up to and following Eid. This is a great time to experience Indonesian culture and learn a little more about Islam in Indonesia. Unfortunately, arriving here one day before the start or Ramadan and with school being all but closed I have not integrated with my community as well as I would’ve hoped. Accordingly, I partook in none of the cultural events which surround Eid. Likely part of the blame for this shortcoming resides with my propensity to pass the days of Ramadan by reading in my room instead of getting out and about in the community. Great for my reading list (I’ve read ten books during Ramadan), bad for community integration.
I had planned on writing about the various aspects of Eid in Indonesia and provide a basic explanation of what happens. Though because I didn’t participate in much of Eid I decided to adapt by asking some of my fellow weblogging ID10 volunteers if they would be interested in collaboratively writing about this holiday (I figured firsthand perspective would be better than a simple theoretical understanding gleaned from Wikipedia). Their response was tepid, to say the least. In the end I did manage to recruit intrepid volunteer, Taylor, to write about a memorable food-related Eid experience.
Let me begin by saying I find myself to be completely blessed to be living with the Host Family I have. They’ve welcomed me completely, and treat me like a family member who has always been here. This treatment is complete by my Host Mom (and every other matriarch I come across) constantly shoving food down my throat. It’s cute really, they want to feed me just like all grandmothers around the world. But I admit, sometimes the constant mystery food is one of my stressors.
I am a Foodie. Check my obnoxious Instagram feed and Food Science minor for details. I find that the best way to get to know people is around a table. However, with fasting having ended, now comes the questionable options of Idul Fitri snacks, and life in the desa quickly escalated from Insta-worthy to Fear Factor-esque.
Therefore I present to you:
How to avoid the no-thank-you-bite: a guide to smuggling foods off your plate and out a window
Step One: There are mice on the table. This is food here. DO NOT PANIC. Look away.
Step Two: You looked back at the plate. Don’t throw up. Make eye contact with no one.
Step Three: Ibu is making you try it (probably because you made eye contact). Take the smallest piece possible and put it on a far corner of your plate.
Step Four: Take a huge bite of anything else while calmly burying the mouse under a rice pile.
Step Five: Find your moment–make intense eye contact with Ibu, nod impressively, tell her it was ‘enak.’ She will laugh at you, but your obligation is fulfilled. This is good.
Step Six: Eat slowly to maximize opportunities to do away with the questionable food item; when the opportunity arrives (maybe a small child did something cute or all laugh at the TV) give your Ibu the stare willing her not to look your way and stick that sucker in your pocket.
Step Seven: There’s a mouse [questionable food item] in your pocket, do not freak out, do not throw up.
Step Eight: Finish meal, wash dish, casually walk to your room.
Step Nine: THROW MOUSE [QUESTIONABLE FOOD ITEM] OUT YOUR WINDOW WHILE HOLDING BACK TEARS AND QUESTIONING EVERY DECISION YOU’VE EVER MADE
Step Ten: Change your pants.
This guide can be amended with other questionable food items as well as other articles of clothing.
Take for instance Idul Fitri day two when I was offered a seemingly innocent cookie that in reality tasted like chalk. That cookie was casually slipped into the bra to, again, be tossed out a window at a later date.
Being adventurous with food is what I live for, but sometimes the adventure consists of getting rid of the food as creatively as possible. It’s just a cultural difference that can’t be avoided. Foods that are weird to me are normal to others. My favorite food is sushi and I’m fairly certain my Ibu would stick that floppy goo in her pocket if invited to my table. Sometimes the most polite and culturally acceptable thing to do is fake it until it’s acceptable to say you’re full.
Final guide tip: always bring with you to an Indonesian table clothing with pockets and your cutest smile.
One of the uniquely Indonesian aspects of Eid is apologizing. Indonesians are already inclined to apologize and Eid provides a nice opportunity to apologize for no reason other than “it’s that time of year.” The idea is to treat Lebaran as a chance for new beginnings and atonement among friends and relatives. The phrase “mohon maaf lahir dan batin” essentially means “forgive my body and soul,” and is written on many products and signs about Eid and said by Indonesians as a seasonal salutation when visiting people during the holidays.
Visiting! Another very Indonesian part of Eid. Mudik means homecoming and is one of the first things people think about in regards to Idul Fitri. Indonesians go home to see their family for up to two weeks for Lebaran. The migration of people to their hometowns is one of the largest temporary migrations of people on earth. In 2013 over 30 million Indonesians made their way home for Eid. This massive shift of the Indonesian populace, generally from urban to rural sites, puts tremendous strain on transportation infrastructure and makes travel extremely difficult, unplanned travel next to impossible as tickets for buses, trains, planes will be bought well in advance.
In addition to going home people will also visit all of their neighbors, friends, and family in the area. This can take multiple days of going out and seeing people and being at home to receive guests. After almost every living person in the desa has been visited, and asked for forgiveness/forgiven, the dead are sometimes visited. Similar to Memorial Day in the US, people will head to cemeteries to pay their respects to their deceased relatives and spruce up grave sites.
The night before Eid, the last day of Ramadan, is called Takbiran. If you know what the Takbir is then you can probably guess what this evening entails. Muslims head to mosques and musallahs where they chant the Takbir to the sound of drums. Takbir is the name of the Islamic Arabic phrase Allāhu akbar, which means God is great. Oftentimes people will set up traditional lanterns outside their house and set off fireworks as well.
Fireworks are very popular at the end of Ramadan. The days and nights leading up to and following Eid are often filled with the sound of fireworks. There were even quite a few launched on the fourth of July which had me pretending perhaps people were celebrating American Independence Day.
Sales and shopping in Indonesia is akin to what one would expect to find in the States during the holiday season. The Indonesian government requires employers to give their employees a Lebaran bonus equivalent to one month’s pay. Retailers know this so do what they can to part Indonesians from their holiday bonus. However, unlike Christmas shopping in America, most Indonesians make purchases for themselves rather than others.
This one is really more of a Ramadan thing but it’s one of the things I was actually able to observe and “participate” in because every sahur and iftar I attended was in front of a television. Television networks will show programs relevant to Ramadan and Eid. Kind of like all the Christmas programming on in America in December but not as hokey. During sahur, the early morning meal, there was a program on which, from what I could gather, was a talent show trying to find an individual who could pray really well. I’m pretty sure that I am right about the general principle of the show, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I was proven wrong.
There is also the occasional parade for Eid. The Saturday after Eid three distinct, yet conspicuously related, groups of people marched by my house. Some of them were riding ponies, some playing instruments, some were just walking along like they meant to go to the store but found a parade on their way there and decided to join. Anyways, it’s been a struggle to find media for this weblog post, but here’s a terrific video of the parade people.