Indonesia prepares for Idul Fitri

Idul Fitr2One of Indonesia’s biggest national holidays is about to begin, and the country is buzzing with preparations. Idul Fitri is the Indonesian spelling of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

Eid al-Fitr celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting required of Muslims during the month of Ramadan. Eid al-Fitr thus begins on the first day of the month of Shawwal, and is a day when Muslims around the world are meant to express feelings of unity with their fellow Muslims. This means, for one, that acts of charity for the poor are required on this day.

In Indonesia, Idul Fitri is officially only for two days but can last as long as a week for some families. The country has adapted the holiday to its unique culture and it includes several elements that are not universally observed by Muslims celebrating Eid.

For instance, employers are legally required to give workers a salary bonus on Idul Fitri. The amount of the bonus varies by region, but refusing to pay it constitutes a serious breach of Indonesian labour law.

It is also common for Indonesians to do a great deal of personal shopping as well as gift shopping during Idul Fitri and in preparation for it, and so this is a booming time of year for malls and retailers in the country, much like the Christmas holiday is for Westerners.

Another Indonesian Idul Fitri custom is the mudik, pulang kampong, or “the homecoming.” This is one of the largest temporary human migrations in the world, when transplanted workers return to their home villages from the cities to celebrate with their families and ask forgiveness for their sins from ancestors and village elders. The government provides a lot of special transportation for this occasion and tries to manage the migration as efficiently as possible, but this time of year is always marked by massive traffic jams and travel delays. Wealthy Indonesians often decamp to local resorts or take overseas vacations, largely because of the absence of their domestic servants.

Idul Fitri falls this year on August 8th and 9th. Indonesian authorities are already reporting that the shops are full and the roads are blocked. If you are planning a trip to the country, you might want to wait a couple of weeks.