Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is There Halloween in Saudi Arabia?

For the vast majority of the country, the answer to that question would have to be NO! Halloween would be seen as having evil roots, the work of the devil, plus the fact that frivilous and fun activities seem to be forbidden or at least frowned upon here. Western holidays are not celebrated, and there are only two holidays recognized here at all - and both of them, not surprisingly, are religious. I haven't actually heard or read that Halloween is technically banned here though, not like Valentine's Day is - which I have written about before.

I'm sure there are Halloween parties and possibly even trick-or-treating within the confines of the residential compounds for foreign workers here. And until this year, I didn't think it was a holiday that was celebrated among Saudis. But it seems that through the wonders of the internet, some Saudis have learned about Halloween and want to dress up in costumes, celebrate, and have their own parties.

I was recently invited to tag along with H (one of my SIL's) to a party at her relative's house, but I had no idea it was going to be a costume party until H and her 6-year-old son got into our car and I saw that the boy was dressed up in a Sponge Bob costume. When we arrived at the party, the villa's gates were decorated with spider webs, witches, pumpkins, and big spiders, and inside there were balloons, bats, and ghosts and other elaborate orange and black Halloween decorations.

The party guests were mostly fun-loving teenage girls and a few were younger, about 30 in all. There were also maybe three little boys, under age 10. They were dressed up in costumes from princesses to punk rockers to puppies. One of my favorites was a girl of about 10 dressed up like a Saudi man in the white thobe and red and white checkered scarf - she had a black beard and moustache painted onto her face plus her eyebrows were heavily painted into a big unibrow. I thought she was adorable.

But the absolute best costume was worn by my hilarious SIL H. After we arrived, she went into the bathroom to change. She put on a loose pink housedress with big brown polka dots all over it and wrapped her head up in a white scarf. Then she put on these thick Coke bottle glasses with round black plastic frames, gnarly rotten fake teeth protruded from her mouth, and she had tucked large bulbous sprigs of some type of fragrant green herb into the arms of the eyeglasses which stuck out on each side of her head - apparently this is something traditional that old Yemenese women do to smell good, but it looks rather odd. As the finishing touch, she added a huge balloon under the skirt of her dress in the back - it was one of the funniest costumes I have ever seen.

There was a female DJ who played dance music ranging from Western hip hop to current Middle Eastern hits and the girls had a blast dancing in the large living room turned into a dance floor where the furniture had been mostly removed. The adult women spent most of the time upstairs chatting and laughing and smoking sheesha. I was asked about Halloween traditions so I told them everything I could think of. Next year I'm going to make them a Haunted House and have them bobbing for apples!


  1. Wow that sounds really fun. Dressing up and having fun ever now and then is good for us all I think. Have fun next year with the apples XD.

  2. Very interesting, who knew? Would've never guessed. I'm glad everyone had fun!

  3. That is awesome, Schmoozie! I really enjoyed reading about the party. Just more confirmation that we more alike than we realize.


  4. I like your blog, I'm subscribed to it, and I read every post you write, but I was shocked by this post specially the first paragraph of it. Who told you Halloween would be seen as "having evil roots, the work of the devil"?, and from where did you get that "the fact that frivilous and fun activities seem to be forbidden or at least frowned upon here"?!! With all respect this is so ignorant of you. Halloween is in the end a western holiday, and no matter how dominating the western culture is, that doesn't mean every single body on earth should adopt it. You live in Saudi Arabia, be ready to have Saudi's holidays. I currently live in the U.S., but I'm not surprised that they don't celebrate Saudi holidays. I never complained why they don't celebrate "Gergeaan" which is a Khaliji occasion. Because it's not part of their culture. I don't think Americans don't like to have fun, I think they do like to have fun in their own way, like we do in our own way.
    It's totally, absolutely, okay for you to express your feelings toward our culture, but please don't talk on behalf of us saying fun activities are forbidden here. You're insulting us by saying that. Because we do have fun activities and we enjoy them, you just don't see it that way.

  5. Most people just think about having fun at this time, not about the meaning of what they may be celebrating.

    Kind of a shame you didn't know about the dress-up part.

  6. Boxi, Angel, Linda, & Djd - Thanks for your comments.

    Talal - You asked who told me that Saudis felt that Halloween has evil roots and was the work of the devil - well, actually, my husband and other family members told me this. I agree that the Western idea of fun most of the time would differ from the Saudi idea of fun - but when I am constantly told here not to smile or laugh in front of others, it really puts a damper on my ability to enjoy myself. To me, Saudi society seems to take itself way too seriously most of the time and is paranoid and so overly preventative of "what if" scenarios that having fun is out of the question.
    When I have said many times before in previous posts that having fun here seems to be forbidden, I am not speaking for your culture - I am speaking from my own perspective, an outsider's perspective. I call it the way I see it, and I stand by that statement.
    I certainly don't expect Western holidays to be celebrated here - that would be very unrealistic of me. I felt it was important to write this post - not because some Saudis dressed up for Halloween, but because they actually like to have fun when given the chance, even though to me, fun activities seem to be forbidden here.
    I ask many questions all the time because I want to understand the culture, the whys and the hows - but in all honesty, I rarely get satisfactory answers. I read and do research to try to find answers but many times I come up empty-handed.
    Call me ignorant, but I am only relaying what I see, what I am told, and how it all make ME feel.

  7. i find it very very sad that saudis are imitating the West in this devilish celebration, may Allah forgive the Ummah! What part of this celebration is right?

  8. SweetLikeChocolate - Most of the world just considers Halloween a fun holiday of dressing up in costumes and eating candy. What's wrong with having fun?
    Talal - see what I mean?

  9. Hello,

    Just thought I'd add my two cents.

    There is no problem with Saudi's/Islam and celebrating and having fun.

    What we have an issue with is what is being celebrated?

    Halloween for example orginates as a pagan celtic festival of the dead. It was later made a christian "all saints day" holiday by the church to cater to its new members. It is also a Wicccan holiday. Today it is mostly celebrated as a secular holiday.

    Most people just celebrate it for fun and copying other people without understanding its roots.

    now as a hypothetical scenario (NOT about halloween), if satan worshipers 3000 years ago had a holiday in which they celebrated the devil, and later in the centuries people forgot what this holiday was about but enjoyed the "fun" they had in it does celebrating it make it right? even if it was a secular holiday and no one belived in the devil anymore?

    For me the answer is no, I do not imitate others just for the fun in it.

    Give me a good reason to celebrate. If it was a good celebration with good universal values like mothers day or breast cancer awareness then I'm all for it.

  10. Yes, I think Talal is right. We ,Saudis, do not need to adopt western celebrations. However, I'm afraid I'm as ignorant as Susie and I need someone to tell me what fun activities are we having here?
    Do you know that we were not allowed to celebrate even our national day until recently?!

  11. Kohmeini once said "there's no fun in islam" and this mantra is pretty popular (from what i've read) among many radical imans....having fun is a big part of human beeing, you can have fun in a total innocent way....I still can't fanthom a life without music, visiting museums (since the human rappresentation is a big no), going to the beach and take a tip in the sea, driving, going to parties and mingle (horror) with unrelated men.

    I've read this post but i found a little bid sad, you said that there were a bunch of teenage GIRLS only 3 boys under 10 years old.

    Here in Italy Halloween is an "imported" holiday, only in the last years is celebrate and you don't see kids going around do trick or treat but teenage and adult use this "holiday" to have a reason to have a fun party, going to disco or simply going to restaurant that hold "halloween party" (i went the day before halloween to a tex mex reastaurant and it was decorated with skulls, skeleton, pumpkins..)

  12. I'm not at all clear what Talal's comments have to do with your post. Certainly Halloween is a holiday that had its origins in earlier pagan rituals. And certainly the Christians co-opted the event ("hallowed e'en" or evening)for their own purposes as the "eve" of All Saints Day. But what of it? Nowadays the day is simply a fun time for dress up and parties...neither of which seem to be strong points in the Saudi culture. In fact, one would be hard pressed to participate in Saudi holidays since there seem to really be only two main ones, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, neither of which Westerners are typically invited to join in with Saudis for. And with "Eid" meaning (as I understand it) something like "solemn festival," it's not like the Saudis are exactly painting the town red on a regular basis. Indeed, I even looked in vain for news and information about National Day this year.

    The main point however is that no one's saying that Saudis have to adopt anyone else's holidays just because a small group of fun-seekers decided to try out a Halloween party.

  13. Hi Susie, my question is where did they get the decorations? Looked like it was a fun party!

  14. Hi SimpleSaudi - You are right - to me and most of the people who have dressed up for Halloween and gone trick-or-treating, it IS just for fun and we don't even think about Halloween's roots. And what's more, we don't really care. It is fun to dress up in costumes and have a good time, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    Hi SaudiFemale - My experience has been that even the two recognized holidays here in KSA that are "celebrated" are so low-key in my husband's family that I would not call it anything more than a simple family get together, which we do at other times as well. There just doesn't seem to be anything special about it that makes me feel like it's a holiday or a celebration.

    Hi CountryGirl - I have heard that quote so many times here, but I didn't know that it came from Khomeini - what a lovely thing to be known for! NOT! I think one of the hardest things for me to adapt to here is the glaring lack of fun and activities - I don't think that God meant for us to live this way...

    Hi Veeds - Exactly! I'm sorry you haven't been included in either of the Eid holidays here, but the interpretation of Eid as a solemn festival is correct, although I don't think "festival" is quite the word I would have used because it infers more of a celebratory atmosphere. I think "solemn observance" might be a more suitable description.

    Hi Anon - I'm not really sure where the decorations came from - sorry.

  15. well fun is also christmas if you look at it that way, most religious celebrations are 'fun' now, should they all be celebrated?

  16. Halloween is celebrated in a lot of countries now, even in Turkey. In Turkey, the malls have 'trick-treaters' everywhere.
    I remember as a young girl my mother did not like the candy aspect of Halloween and found the holiday strange because it was not celebrated in Denmark in her time.

    Children will be children. What I think is universal is going out expressing creativity and immagination. What is so harmful about that?

  17. To SweetLikeChocolate - No where have I ever said that I think holidays from other parts of the world should be celebrated here. But I see nothing wrong with having fun and if people want to have fun, they should, without other people criticizing them or judging them. I also think that people should be able to celebrate holidays they have always traditionally celebrated, no matter where in the world are. For example, I'll be cooking a turkey on Thanksgiving Day (a U.S. holiday) in a couple of weeks and putting up my little Christmas tree, because that is what I have always done on that day.
    And in all honesty, there is not much "fun" in the two religious holidays celebrated here that I have seen.

  18. As muslims we have been told not to adopt other peoples celebrations, i think its sad that muslims have when the west DO NOT celebrate ours, yet we are so quick in following and imitating them. Sure we can say its fun, but thats just an excuse to celebrate imo. :D

  19. sweetlikechocolates...Muslims have adopted the one thing that they definitely should unadopt..and that is the typical mindset that looking like, talking like, dressing like, acting like, thinking like etc etc..like an Arab...no matter what part of the world you come from..is the only way to be a true Muslim.

    Now look around at the state of Muslim women around the world but mostly in Arab countries and explain to us why celebrating a western holiday that is all about fun can be worst than that???

  20. We and fellow expats used to have a laugh at the sign just outside of Jeddah Airport that says - "Smile, you're in Jeddah" simply because the culture simply doesn't allow much merrymaking. All Western celebrations are of course banned - even for westerners, so there are no Valentines' Day cards, even store displays remotely resembling such events (no red hearts. etc). And of course forget about Christmas - I have a lot of Saudi friends who used to greet me and even send Christmas cards but they were advised, in very stern language and in signs posted in our office building, that this should not be done. We have no problems greeting our Muslim brothers Eid Mubarak and Ramadan Karim but when well-meaning Saudis are prohibited from reciprocating, one would think tolerance is not a big thing in the Kingdom. Tolerance for fun is something that Saudis should work harder at - Muslims in Asian countries such as Malaysia and even Indonesia allow such celebrations and that does not make them less pious.

  21. coolred, in what way are muslims 'imitating arabs' all around the world?

  22. @ anonymous-it is not a Saudi issue it is an islamic issue. Arabia had different religions and festivals in the Time of The Prophet PBUH, many of his companions were reverts-and they are the best example to us. What did He PBUH teach them? That the celebration of the muslims were the day of Fitr and Adha-they rejected all former celebrations from the days of ignorance. And the Arabs then also loved to have fun and celebrate.

  23. Nice pics, Susie :)

    I used to love and enjoy Halloween while I was in the States...I used to celebrate it every year in the campus where I lived with my family...I have a lot of beautiful memories about Halloween...

    I used to celebrate Halloween and Valentine's Day every year even when I returned to SA.

    However, after a while I realized that no American or Western on Earth celebrates any of our Islamic or Saudi holidays...so, I started an on and off celebration of Halloween and Valentine's Day...After not celebrating them for a while, I realized that I didn't miss out that much...I actually go to DJ parties every now and then...I have a beach house...and I can hang out with my friends any time I want...So I have fun with or without these celebrations that I have fond memories of...

    Regarding the smile or "non-smile" culture...well maybe in some regions, strictness prevails, but surly not in Makkah and Jeddah...In fact, Saudis have an amazing sense of humor ...and we have a new saying here between us girls "we can get hight without drugs" :) We really do have a lot of times where we laugh like crazy ....

    And Susie, don't take whatever your husband tells you for granted ...He is only ONE Saudi...His opinions (as I read on your blog) do not represent many of us...I really wish I can talk to him..He is making you so confused as a woman and as a Muslim...

    I hope my honesty didn't offend you...You know that I respect you, value your posts, and understand what you are going through...

    Thank you

  24. Don't forget a corn maze if there is some crop you can cut one through there. Since they don't celebrate Christmas, perhaps you can do a gingerbread haunted house decoration.