After two years of restrictions, Malaysians over the moon for Hari Raya minus Covid-19 SOPs

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Residents of Taman Setia Balakong celebrating the eve of Aidilfitri by marching around the residency in Balakong, May 1, 2022. After the locked-down Aidilfitri of 2020 and the heavily-restricted festivities last year, many Malaysians are delighted to celebrate Hari Raya with loved ones free of most Covid restrictions.  — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Residents of Taman Setia Balakong celebrating the eve of Aidilfitri by marching around the residency in Balakong, May 1, 2022. After the locked-down Aidilfitri of 2020 and the heavily-restricted festivities last year, many Malaysians are delighted to celebrate Hari Raya with loved ones free of most Covid restrictions. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year will mark the country’s first major festival free of most restrictions since the Covid-19 pandemic hit two years ago, leaving many Malaysians delighted with anticipation.

After the locked-down Aidilfitri of 2020 and the heavily-restricted festivities last year, 61-year-old Bahar Onan said the prospects of this year’s celebrations have made him as giddy as a child.

Speaking excitedly in an interview with Malay Mail, Bahar said he planned to hit the road and tour relatives’ homes this year to make up for the travel curbs from 2020 and 2021.

Despite giggling in delight, Bahar paused and said it was still important to take precautions ahead of the festivities. Among others, he said self-testing for Covid-19 should still be practised ahead of gatherings for the safety of all attendees.

“We don’t want to get caught off guard because we can see the effects of not being cautious despite the lax regulations set by the government at this raya.

“I am excited to go back to my mother’s house in Segamat and meet all my siblings there and also eat all Hari Raya food all day long,” he told Malay Mail.

On April 27, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced that the practice of hosting open houses and home visits would finally be allowed again this Aidilfitri, along with other customs such as the physical greeting or salam that were previously discouraged to minimise physical contact amid the pandemic.

This was in addition to the withdrawal of other standard operating procedures such as MySejahtera registrations and mandatory masking outdoors.

For new parents 27-year-old Muhammad Ameer Najwan Ghazali and his wife, Qhaleela Rossafri, the announcement that this year’s Hari Raya could be celebrated without restrictions was momentous as it will give them the opportunity to introduce their four-month-old child Muhammad Yusof Muhammad Ameer Najwan to their family in Kuala Lipis, Pahang.

Ameer said his grandparents, uncles and aunts have all hinted that the new addition to the family will have toys galore awaiting him on the visit home.

Ameer married Qhaleela in 2021 but the two have not had the chance to visit their larger family in their home state since then. Instead, they have only stayed in contact via telephone.

“After two years of missing my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces — finally this year I get to meet them. You have to understand that they were part of my childhood and of course I want them to be a part of my adulthood, too.

“I’m so close to them cause despite my parents house being in Sungai Buloh, I always find ways to go back to Kuala Lipis every weekend and school holidays.

“That’s why this Raya is so important to me because I want to show my extended family that I have built my own family now,” a delighted-sounding Ameer told Malay Mail.

Ameer said he was looking forward to the whole family gathering to bakar lemang — glutinous rice and coconut milk cooked in bamboo tubes over an open fire — together to make up for the event’s absence in the last two years.

The family would typically gather at least two days before the first day of Aidilfitri and launch into an operation to cook the traditional savoury and sweet dishes to usher in the celebrations.

“While the adults are cooking and cleaning, the kids are chasing each other with fireworks everywhere and pelita (oil lamp) lights as background,” he said, reminiscing.

Hazeeq Mikhail Mokhtar, 27, expressed excitement for this Aidilfitri as it will be when his extended family’s new home in Temerloh, Pahang, will have been completed.

This will give the entire family a chance to catch up and take part in the preparations for the celebrations, such as helping with the cooking, cleaning and decorating.

“My big family are very close to each other and every year we will always find a certain place or someone’s house to gather. But now that the house that we all pitched in and built together has finished.

“We only need to gather at the house every year and in the process of all the cooking and cleaning; I’m sure everyone will have fun with all the activities during this Raya,” he said.

While many were eager to gather their extended families for Aidilfitiri again, 59-year-old mother-of-five Rohaya Dora said she was simply looking forward to a close-knit event with her husband and children.

She said just seeing all the seats filled at the dining table in her family home in Negri Sembilan, at least for a few days during the holiday, was already enough celebration.

Rohaya said she has missed the sight of her loved ones enjoying all the Raya cookies and rendang on the table.

“Sometimes watching Raya shows with your family members while eating lemang and rendang but knowing that all your family members are here with you is the best that you could ask for.

“Sometimes planning to do something or go out on the road during Raya makes us forget that presence alone can actually make you more than happy. Makes us appreciate the presence more,” she told Malay Mail.

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