How Malaysians Celebrate Hari Raya: Open House Do's and Don'ts

Michelle Chee

Michelle Chee

Last updated 02 April, 2024

Being a multiracial and multicultural country, Malaysia celebrates many festivals. During major festivals, there’s a practice whereby the host opens up their houses to visitors for a certain period. This is most commonly called an 'Open House'.

Those invited can be friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances. Some even open their houses to strangers. One period where you can experience Open Houses in Malaysia is during Hari Raya Aidilfitri

Visitors will be treated to a meal, usually served buffet style, as well as various festive sweets and snacks. Sometimes, guests will also receive small gifts of cash (duit raya) in festive envelopes. 

This guide is meant to help those who are attending open houses for the first time. The tips here also come in handy if this is your first time being invited to any kind of Hari Raya activities.


Why is Hari Raya Celebrated?

Before attending an open house or any other Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa celebration (even those on a smaller scale), it’s best to understand what the celebration is about. 

During the month of Ramadan according to the Islamic calendar, Muslims fast from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. When this month ends, they hold a celebration known as Eid-ul-Fitr or Aidilfitri. This Eid celebration begins on the first day of the Islamic month of Syawal.

In short, Muslims mark a successful month of fasting and celebrate in thanksgiving for all that has been accomplished during Ramadan. 

In Malaysia, Eid-ul-Fitr is commonly called Hari Raya, which loosely translates to means ‘Celebration Day’. It is the biggest holiday in the country, since more than 60% of Malaysians are Muslims. 


When is Hari Raya Celebrated?

Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated by Muslims all over the world on the first day of Syawal. The dates for the first of Syawal vary significantly from year to year. Since the Islamic calendar is based on the moon, the first of Syawal is usually the day a new moon is observed. 

Many countries use calculations to determine this date, but Malaysia still depends on the traditional practice of observing the moon. The dates given in official calendars are estimations that need to be officially confirmed by at least one of the official moon viewing venues in Malaysia. 


Hari Raya Do’s and Don’ts: Basic Etiquette Guide

If you’ve received an invitation to a Hari Raya bash or plan to drop by one of the mass open houses, you may be wondering what’s acceptable and what’s not. Here we will be listing some of the practices you can adopt when celebrating Hari Raya as a guest:


DO Dress Modestly


Since Aidilfitri is a religious celebration, it helps if you’re not dressed too casually or in a revealing manner. This means no mini-skirts, short shorts, singlets, bikini tops or skimpy clothing. Dress neatly and comfortably. You can opt for Hari Raya traditional costumes such as Baju Melayu, Baju Kurung or Baju Kebaya; or even t-shirts with Jeans. 

There’s no hard and fast rule on clothing and you'll still be welcomed warmly any which way. However, choosing to dress modestly is one way of showing respect to your host and to the occasion.


DO Eat With Your Right Hand

There will usually be some cutlery present. However, if you want to eat in the traditional Malay style, remember to only use your right hand. The left hand is considered unclean (as it is meant for post-toilet business clean-up) and therefore using it to eat is a sign of disrespect and poor cultural etiquette. 

Washing your hands before and after eating is also part of Malay dining etiquette. If you see a teapot on a stand at your table, those are traditionally meant for hand-washing. Otherwise just look for the nearest sink. 


DO Take Off Your Shoes Upon Entering a Home

Your host may have part of the celebration outdoors, especially if they’ve set up a tent with food and tables. However, you may also be invited into their home. If this is the case, do take off your footwear and put it on again only after exiting the building. 


DO Make it a Point to Greet The Host


If it’s not too crowded, do make a beeline for the person who invited you to the open house. Wish them ‘Selamat Hari Raya’ and thank them for the invitation. 

For Muslims, unrelated individuals of the opposite gender do not usually shake hands, hug or have physical contact of any kind. So don’t get offended if someone does not return your outstretched arm for a handshake.

In cases where you encounter someone of the opposite gender, lifting your right hand over your heart, nodding slightly and wishing them ‘Selamat Hari Raya’ is an acceptable greeting. It's alright to shake anyone's hand if they extend it first. 

You will also sometimes see people greeting each other by clasping their hands together, palms outstretched. They will then move their palms inwards to their hearts. This is yet another form of traditional greeting called 'bersalam' that you can practise. 


DON’T Overeat


Hari Raya fare is definitely some of the most attractive and delicious food you’ll encounter in Malaysia. Usually, food will be laid out in a buffet and you can help yourself. Some larger open houses may also have food stalls or stations where you can take various dishes.

The temptation to fill your plate to the brim is tempting, but do try to only take what you can eat. Usually there’s more than enough food to go around so you can always go for a second round after everyone has had their share. Taking only what you can eat also means less food wastage


DON’T Leave a Mess

Buffet style open houses usually come with disposable plates, cups and cutleries. It helps if you clean up after yourself by throwing them into the provided rubbish bins after you’ve finished eating.

Try your best not to leave wrappers, crumbs and other bits of food on your table as well. This is to save the caterers and your host family the trouble of cleaning up for the next batch of guests. 

If you’re in a smaller gathering with non-disposable eating utensils, try and bring them to the kitchen or place them in the basin provided. 


DON’T Go Exploring On Your Own

As a guest, stay in the areas that are considered public and acceptable. As with any home or building, it would be considered uncouth for you to open doors to private spaces like bedrooms. If you have children, do keep a watchful eye on them so that they don’t end up in places they shouldn’t be in. 

Also, do try and seek permission from your host if you want to handle or touch any personal belongings of theirs, like any books, photo albums, pets or appliances. This extends to your younger family members too. 


What About Gifts?

It’s not mandatory to bring a gift for your host during Hari Raya open houses. In fact, many guests will come empty handed and that is completely acceptable. 

However, if you would like to bring something to show your gratitude to your host, you can consider bringing food and beverage based gifts that are Halal ( permissible according to Islam). Some suggestions include Hari Raya hampers, fruit baskets, cookies, cakes and chocolates. 

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DO Have a Good Time

Malaysians in general love having a good time. They’re also very warm and will embrace you no matter your background. Malaysians are also, in general, very accepting. Therefore, you shouldn’t worry too much about committing a faux pas as people are pretty nice. This is part of the beauty of being in a multicultural nation. 

Remember that the list here is in no way meant to enforce strict guidelines. They’re meant to make your experience celebrating Hari Raya with your friends and family an exciting and wholesome experience. So above, all remember to have fun and share in the joy of Aidilfitri. 

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