How DO Saudis Celebrate a New Year?

Saudi Arabia follows the Hijri (Islamic Year) whereas most other places in the world follow the Gregorian calendar year.  Since I have explained the distinction between Hijri and Gregorian calendars in an earlier post, rather than repeat the distinctions, I am going to expand more on the New Year itself.

Jill is a regular of American Bedu blog and she wanted to know just how do Saudis celebrate the New Year.  While Saudi Arabia follows the Hijri calendar, it also acknowledges the Gregorian calendar.  In fact at all the Saudi institutions where I have worked, all correspondence and documents will cite both the Hijri and Gregorian date.

However when it comes to the New Year itself, whether it is the Hijri or Gregorian year, both are just regular days in Saudi Arabia.  Unlike many other countries around the world with multiple holidays and special days, within Saudi Arabia the only times which are recognized with official time off are Saudi National Day (Independence Day); Eid al Fitr (Ramadan); and Eid al Adha (Hajj).

Jill wanted to know whether there were special foods, games or customs to celebrate the New Year.  While this does not happen for the New Year in Saudi Arabia, families certainly have special foods, games and customs for the respective Eids.

In closing this post I should mention that the Gregorian New Year is typically celebrated by expats and some Saudis will join in these celebrations.  However such functions are usually private invitation-only functions.  Anyone planning to celebrate the Gregorian New Year in Saudi and stay up beyond midnight needs to take into account that depending on when New Year’s Day falls, he or she will be expected to work in the morning, on time.

8 Responses

  1. Celebrating the new year (Hijri of Gregorian) is looked down upon by the religious elite as bid’a (prohibited innovation), so you won’t see any public feasts or such.

    Still, people do greet each other with “kul aam wintum bekhair” (may every year see you well), and families usually get together.

    In some Meccan families, it is customary in these gatherings to serve what is called “Gahwa Hilwa” (lit. sweet coffee). Don’t let the name fool you. It’s *not* coffee, but a sweet hot drink made from milk, spices and nuts. Very yummy. I’ll see if I can get a recipe if you’re interested.

  2. @ Saudi Jawa,

    Isn’t Eid al Adha also the New Year for the Hijra calendar?

    Also, yes please on the recipe. I can remember having it at my husbands grandmothers long ago- but it seems no one else in our family is making it.

  3. @Sandy

    No. Eid al Adha (feast of sacrifice) is celebrated in the 10th day of the 12th month (Dhul Hijja). Eid al Fitr (feast of breakfast) is celebrated on the 1st day of the 10th month (Shawal).

    Here’s the recipe for Gahwa Hilwa for around 6 people:

    6 cups of milk
    1/2 cup of rice flour
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 tbsp ground cardamom
    1 tbsp rose water
    1/2 cup ground almonds and a bit more extra for garnishing.

    1. Place milk, sugar and rice flour on medium heat. Stir until it comes to a boil.
    2. Add almonds, and continue stirring on low heat for 10-15 minutes. This should soften up the almonds a bit and incorporate it into the drink.
    3. Turn off heat and add rose water and cardamom. Stir.
    4. Pour into cups, garnish with more ground almonds and serve hot.

    This is a good basic recipe which can be modified to taste (more cardamom, less rose water, etc)

  4. Thank you sooo much for the recipe. I’ll have to start practicing! I’m guessing more cardomom for me- and more rose water for my husband.

    I remember we always used to have gamaradine at Sitty’s house as well. No one seems to be doing that either. But I wasn’t crazy about it so I probably won’t ressurect it.

    I think I know the source of my calendar confusion. We recieve new calendars at Eid Al Adha. But clearly I don’t pay enought attention to when we actually start using them!

  5. Considering the fact that Muslim Christmas season hold fast as this
    Muslim holidays draw a sharp distinction between the cultures of the west and Islam. A major Muslim holiday called “Eid al-Adha” began on November 16 and is recognized for three days. The spending orgies of a western Christmas contrast sharply with “stoning of the Devil,” the central practice of Eid al-Adha. I wonder how many of them take out

  6. Why not compare the spending orgies of Christmas with the spending orgies of Ramadan?

  7. good point and comparison!

  8. a couple of years ago, there was a wonderful celebration in spazio-mamlakah tower, with light music, lunch and the lights going off at 12 at night. Wonderful really and many saudi’s were there celebrating.
    Faisaliah also holds nice events- at the globe and many many other hotels or restaurants around riyadh.
    i thus believe in jeddah or khobar it is much more celebrated.

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