A Tale of Two Eids: Tradition, Transformation, and the Indonesian Spirit

SimpleJoy
6 min readApr 4, 2024
Credit: kabar65news

Eid al-Fitr, also known as Idul Fitri or Lebaran locally, is just around the corner, marking a period of festivity and forgiveness. In Indonesia, regardless of whether one is Muslim or not, the spirit of this occasion is needed now more than ever.

Following the election on Valentine’s Day this year and subsequent protests in Jakarta, we are engrossed in a daily “TV show"—the live broadcasts of the Constitutional Court hearings on the presidential election appeals. These appeals claim extensive irregularities and fraud in the election process.

Adding to the drama, rice prices soared to an all-time high in February 2024, marking a 20% year-on-year increase and fueling a 3.05% annual inflation rate in March. Meanwhile, the country is also grappling with a massive corruption scandal at state-owned PT Timah accused of causing potential state losses of Rp 271 trillion (US$17 billion), adding yet another layer of complexity to the current landscape.

Hundreds of people flocked to buy cheap rice in Pasuruan, East Java, in February 2024. Credit:Detikcom

These national challenges mirror the difficulties faced in personal financial planning, including my own. In recent days, I’ve been avoiding the crucial yet tedious task of monthly budgeting. This month, it’s especially vital as I need to allocate funds for Tunjangan Hari Raya (THR), the special holiday bonus for those in need. While I used to receive a month’s salary as THR during my full-time employment, my current semi-retired status, coupled with the economic climate, necessitates a more creative approach to financial management.

However, a pleasant surprise came this week. Pak Parjo, our family’s trusted handyman, informed me he wouldn’t need a loan for his mudik this year. Mudik, a cherished Indonesian tradition, sees people returning to their ancestral homes for the Eid al-Fitr holidays. He explained that this year’s THR would be adequate for him, which somewhat eased my financial concerns and motivated me to tackle my budgeting task.

“That’s good news. It seems you’ve managed to save more this year,” I remarked. However, Pak Parjo clarified that his situation hadn’t changed much financially. Instead, he had found a “smarter” solution. His friend, who regularly travels from Central Java to Jakarta for logistics work, offered to take him back to his village in the truck. Since the truck usually returns empty to Central Java after delivering goods to Jakarta, this arrangement provides an economical way for him to undertake his mudik journey.

Floodwaters submerged five sub-districts in Kudus, March 2024. Credit: Kompas.com

Moreover, Pak Parjo’s hometown of Kudus, located approximately 500km from Jakarta, and the adjacent regency of Demak have been enduring severe and extended flooding since early February. This situation has led to damaged roads, posing significant risks for motorbike travel, which is Pak Parjo’s usual means of transportation. Alternative options, like bus or train travel, are beyond his financial reach.

Pantura (North Coast) Road between Demak and Kudus suffered significant damage. Credit: Liputan 6

Pak Parjo’s innovative approach to mudik reflects the larger tradition’s deep-rooted importance in our society, underscoring how these cultural practices maintain their significance even in changing times. Pak Parjo, alongside countless others, exemplifies resilience by adapting to their circumstances and finding dignified alternatives to fulfill their needs and uphold traditions like mudik rather than depending solely on state support, especially amidst economic challenges.

Mudik serves as the prelude to Lebaran’s festivities. After the Eid prayers, the tradition of silaturahmi begins, where people visit friends and family, exchange greetings, and seek forgiveness. The celebration continues with a culinary feast, a cornerstone of Eid festivities in Indonesia. Delicacies like ketupat (rice cake wrapped in coconut leaves), opor ayam (chicken in coconut milk), rendang (a spicy meat dish), and an array of sweet treats are meticulously prepared and shared among families and neighbors, adding to the joyous atmosphere of the holiday.

Lebaran dishes. Credit: Klikdokter

While it spans merely two weeks, this time serves as an essential reservoir of vitality for Pak Parjo, invigorating him for his return to Jakarta where he continues the relentless rhythm of working hard and saving, only to disburse it once more in his hometown. Viewed through a capitalist lens, this cycle may appear unorthodox and adverse to the accumulation of wealth. Yet, who am I to pass judgment? He discovers joy and contentment in his existence, and it is with profound respect that I regard his approach to life.

Pak Parjo’s annual journey and the sacrifices he makes underscore a universal truth: happiness often comes from the simple yet profound moments of connection and tradition rather than from material wealth. This cyclical pilgrimage, though seemingly at odds with the principles of economic gain, represents a deeper, intrinsic value that transcends monetary measures.

Similarly, as Jakarta empties and the pace of city life slows down with the exodus of mudik travelers, I am reminded of the importance of pausing and reflecting on our own lives. Just as Pak Parjo replenishes his spirit during this festive season, so too does the city of Jakarta, and perhaps its remaining inhabitants, find a moment of calm and contemplation.

Quiet Jakarta during Lebaran 2023. Credit: RajaDroneID

The introspective calm I anticipate in the wake of Jakarta’s temporary quietude aligns with the deeper introspection and community connection fostered by the halal bihalal tradition. This unique Indonesian tradition broadens the scope of silaturahmi, reaching beyond immediate family to encompass the community, former colleagues and offices, (former) schoolmates, and institutions.

As I prepare myself to partake in this significant ritual, it nudges me to reflect on the multifaceted nature of forgiveness and reconciliation against the backdrop of evolving traditions and a convoluted socio-political environment. In the midst of these changes, I am confronted with a spectrum of feelings and a personal battle with the idea of forgiveness festivity, observing its evolution and how it has morphed into its present state.

In recent years, save for the pandemic pause, state officials, the president included, would open their doors for halal bihalal, creating spaces where the public could mingle and share Eid greetings and forgiveness.

People queue to meet the President at Istana Negara during the Lebaran Open House, 2019. Credit: Kompas.com

However, today’s intricate political and socio-economic milieu adds a layer of complexity to the once straightforward salutations of ‘Happy Eid Mubarak’. When these leaders utter Mohon maaf lahir dan batin (forgive me from the bottom of my heart), whether in person at these gatherings or through media channels, it now bears a gravity that tempers the genuineness of my response.

This Eid illuminates the convolutions of tradition, transformation, and personal integrity. The experiences of Pak Parjo, myself, and countless others serve as a poignant illustration of the direct effects governmental decisions and actions have on our daily existence. The once simple gesture of seeking and extending forgiveness has assumed a new level of difficulty, mirroring the challenges brought about by the actions, or inactions, of those in authority.

As I offer the greeting of Happy Eid Mubarak, my desire is for it to transcend mere formality, evolving into a genuine manifestation of empathy and a pledge to surmount the adversities confronting our people.

This celebration of forgiveness should be a catalyst for sincere reflection and impactful change among our leaders, bridging the chasm between their pledges and their deeds. I envision this leading to a deeper, more accountable form of reconciliation, one that fosters the welfare of both our community and the nation at large.

Credit: Tribun Makassar

“Selamat Idul Fitri, mohon maaf lahir dan batin—Happy Eid al-Fitr, please forgive me from the bottom of my heart.”

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SimpleJoy

Mother & aid practitioner 🌏 | Exploring cultural bridges 🌐, aid industry insights 🔍, and cherishing life's simple pleasures 🌸