Let me begin by admitting my naïveté and say that I had never heard of Ramadan before moving to Saudi Arabia. Much of the Islamic culture is new to me and I am enjoying learning about it and experiencing it firsthand. I won’t try to explain the religious significance of Ramadan – you can Wikipedia it – but I will share my understandings after a month of observing it.
Ramadan began on June 18 and ended on July 17 this year, beginning and ending with a crescent moon. During this time, Muslims fast during the daylight hours, which depending on the time of year (it’s not always during summer) and location in the world (near or far from the equator) Muslims can be fasting for most of the day. Here in Saudi, Muslims fasted between 3:30AM and 6:30PM, eating and drinking only during the evenings. This is a month of deprivation and spirituality, some praying through the night between meals. Their fast is broken at sundown with a date followed by Iftar – a large meal – shared with family and friends. These can be big gatherings with elaborate spreads and are often a time of charity feeding those who are less fortunate. I am told that food is always in overabundance during Ramadan. Later in the evening is Suhoor, a smaller meal of snacks which can also be shared. Since Muslims are up through most of the night, in SA they tend to sleep through most of the day even working a reduced number of hours.
Some traditions that we were privileged to participate in are unique to the Eastern Province only. We were invited to enjoy a Geerga’an which marks the fifteenth day of Ramadan and is a kind of celebration by the locals. It is mostly for the children who traditionally receive candy and nuts, but many of the adults participate with dancing and eating as well. One notable aspect of the occasion is that women will dance in horse costumes and bang on drums…I’m not sure how this originated. We had a wonderfully sweaty time in the tent with everyone dancing and watching the kids have fun. As you can see from my pictures, the girls wear colorful dresses. Women also wear colorful and elaborate dresses called Jalabiyas during Ramadan, but only at home in private. I bought three for myself. 🙂
Ramadan concludes with Eid, families and friends call upon each other and enjoy dates, chocolates, and cups of Arabic coffee. We paid our respects to our Saudi contacts and enjoyed wishing them “Eid Mubarak,” many will now travel during the rest of summer before school begins at the end of August. For us, we are just happy to go to restaurants again during the day.