Joy of receiving green packets during Hari Raya


AS A child, Hari Raya was one of the most joyful times of the year for me. Not only did it reunite me with family members I did not see regularly, the Aidilfitri celebrations meant three things, an abundance of sugary treats and drinks that we could eat to our hearts content at the open houses, fireworks lighting up the sky in beautiful patterns and colours and of course, the ubiquitous green packets filled with money from elders, which after counting at the end of the day, our parents would dutifully deposit into our bank accounts.

The giving of green packets to children and younger relatives during Hari Raya Aidilfitri has become a tradition in our Malay society. These green packets, which contained cash in differing amounts are viewed as sedekah from the giver, and was said to be an adaptation of the custom based on the obligatory Islamic duty of zakat, where the sedekah was given to poorer families who came to visit the homes for Hari Raya to aid them during their hard times and help ease their burdens. Nowadays, it's no longer limited to the poor, but children from all backgrounds will equally get a green packet.

There are no set rules about the green packets. Some families will give them to their younger relatives until they get married, which is when they will start giving them in turn. Others will stop giving them when the person is of an age when they should be working.

The green packets have not always existed. Mohd Rahman Abdullah, a retired civil servant, still remembers a time when children were not given money, but rather sweets. "When I was a boy, Hari Raya was the time we would get lots of treats from our elders in the Kampong, mostly sweets or small toys like marbles," he recalled.

"Instead of giving them to the visitors who came to our house, I used to eat them until I got sick, as that was the only time we had lots of sweets in the house."

As the country grew more affluent, the tradition of giving sweets evolved into giving envelopes with money. "It used to be one or two dollars in an envelope," says Mohd Rahman. "And the envelopes were white or brown, similar to the ones used to send letters." It was only in the last 30 years, that specially made envelopes were used to distribute these sedekahs, and they were green in colour, as green is an important colour in Islam, and was also said to be The Prophet's (PBUH) favourite colour.

The green envelopes or packets also evolved to include Islamic designs, such as ketupat, which is a popular food during Hari Raya, mosques and greetings such as "Salam Aidilfitri". Ak Bahar, a local graphic designer, helps some corporate companies in Brunei to design their green packets, before they are sent for printing. "Traditionally, many would ask for the mosque or ketupat designs. Nowadays, they want to associate their corporate identity with the packets. Some have veered away from the traditional green colours, and change things up by using the company's corporate colours as a way to promote themselves further. I feel that it adds more colours to the spirit of Hari Raya, in a way," he said. "It's nice to see the different coloured packets also used as decorations, which really enliven the atmosphere."

Though the intentions behind the giving of the green packets have always been good, some feel that it is not good practice, as it encourages children to be materialistic.

Even more so, there are some that would take advantage of the good and generous nature of Muslims during Hari Raya.

In recent years, there have been reports of "syndicates" that use children to collect green packets from open houses, some going as far as bringing up to 20 children to an open house and collecting the green packets from them afterwards.

"Though it has not happened to me personally, I have heard from friends and neighbours about large groups of children that suddenly show up at the door."

"Of course, in the spirit of Hari Raya, you would not turn them away. These children, sometimes not accompanied by adults, shortly after arriving, even before drinks have been served, would ask for green packets and leave," Abdul Rahman said, while shaking his head. "It is a sad thing, and has become more common now. I feel sorry for the children involved as it is a corruption of such innocents."

The Brunei Times
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