Idul Fitri; what we have learned…

… and mistakes we have made.

Idul Fitri, (or Eid alFitr) is the national holiday in Indonesia that celebrates the end of a month of fasting.  During the month of Ramadan Indonesians fast from sun up to sundown, including fasting from drink.  

During the month of Ramadan, bands of drummers (brief clip here) will go through the neighborhoods around 3 AM to wake everyone up so that they can eat before sunrise (around 5:50 AM).

It was not our normal habit to eat in public, but we were diligent during this month to avoid eating or drinking in public to avoid causing those that were fasting any additional anguish.

The celebration of Idul Fitri began at sundown this past Tuesday. It included many fireworks (regard for personal safety appears to be a minor priority), parades with drums and floats from every neighborhood’s mosque that went on through the night, and was followed by several days of visiting family and friends and eating.  We will try to keep this more factual and refrain from too much cultural analysis, but we were struck by the fact that all of this celebration and revelry was done in the absence of alcohol.  It is hard for us to imagine any celebration happening in the Western world, neighborhood-wide, for days on end without alcohol.

Also, unlike much of the Western world, it seemed every child from 3 years old on up was armed with a lighter, an endless supply of fireworks, and no parental oversight.  This kept us on our toes :).

The cultural norm is for families to return to their hometowns (many leave the capitol of Jakarta creating a traffic nightmare for many) to celebrate.  We were told to allow Wednesday to be a day for families to visit each other and then Thursday we could visit our neighborhood friends.

Each home has a visiting room in the front of the house that has a table of many snacks (mainly cookies).  You bring a gift of cookies as well and visit with them for 15-60 minutes.  However, it is normal for them to greet you, invite you to eat snacks, and then leave you in the front room to eat.  This created a unique feeling of discomfort when we were invited to homes for a meal.  We would eat snacks, they would then bring out prepared food and make sure we had everything we needed, then leave and wait for us to finish.  There was very little social interaction during the actual meal.

Leigh made one glaring (and comical) mistake when we arrived to partake in our first meal with a national friend.  We did not know where he lived, so the host drove to our house, and we followed him back to his house on motorbike. There were many of us that were invited, so when we arrived, we parked at the neighbors house (which we learned later). We immediately greeted his neighbor thinking it was his wife, introduced ourselves, and gave her the cookies.  Oops! We found out only moments later that she was not his wife. Our host had a brief (and surely awkward) conversation  with his neighbor and came back to his house with the cookies that were intended for him.

When you arrive at the host’s home, you are to greet with ‘Selamat Idul Fitri’ (happy Idul Fitri), but then add ‘mahon maaf lahir dan batin’ (please forgive me from the bottom of my heart). This played out as more of a cultural pleasantry than the repentance/forgiveness model we were originally thinking it was.

While we still feel very much like outsiders here, more a novelty family here in the neighborhood, we are prayerful that over time we will make deeper connections. On the whole, we found the week to be very communal and a good-natured celebration that provided several ‘hooks’ for us to initiate worldview/spiritual discussions on as soon as we are proficient enough in the language.  We have also noticed that visiting with neighbors this week has advanced our relationships with them. They know us better and seem to be more welcoming to us – even greeting us and our children by name.

Thanks for reading this long post… you made it to the end.  Consider this evidence that you really do love us and care about what God is doing here 🙂

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