Friday, September 23, 2011

Saudi National Day

Today marks the 81st anniversary (according to the Islamic Hijri calendar, 79th anniversary according to the Julian calendar) of Saudi Arabia's formation and unification in 1932 by King Abdul Aziz. Driving around Jeddah today and you will see the country's national flag up everywhere as Saudi prepares for its only non-religious official holiday of the year.

Saudi Arabia's national flag

A Very Brief History

Before 1932, Saudi Arabia was split into two main kingdoms: Nejd and Hejaz. Abdul-Aziz bin Saud of the Al Saud family (House of Saud) seized Riyadh, the capital of Saudi, in 1902. That was the start of a series of conquests which eventually led to the union of Nejd and Hejaz in 1932, and the established state was named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The name Saudi Arabia comes from the region - Arabia, or the Arabian Peninsula - and the family that ruled it (Al Saud).

Map of Saudi Arabia before formation - shows split between Hejaz and Nejd
Saudi Arabia in its current form

Saudi National Day as a public holiday

While people in Saudi may have celebrated the anniversary of the country's formation before, it wasn't until King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz came to power in 2005 that it was celebrated as a public holiday.

However, while many private institutions close on both of the Eid holidays after Ramadam and Hajj (which are the other public holidays that exist in Saudi), fewer observe Saudi National Day considering it is only celebrated by Saudi nationals. Although you could argue that the expats and students appreciate the day off as well!

As a note, September 23rd is a Friday this year, which is a part of the Saudi weekend (Thursdays and Fridays). When this is the case, the ensuing Saturday is treated similar to a bank holiday. (Think how Christmas and Boxing Day fell on a weekend in the UK last year causing the Monday and Tuesday afterwards to be bank holidays.) 

Celebrating Saudi National Day

Due to the conservatism that exists in the country, you are more likely to see celebrations in the more cosmopolitan places in Saudi, such as Jeddah, which is perhaps the most tolerant and diverse of all of Saudi Arabia's cities.

Here in Jeddah Saudis celebrate by going out; many will visit the Jeddah Corniche, a seaside promenade, where there will be fireworks and a parade. Some families might go out for dinner at one of many restaurants in Jeddah, since eating out is a popular pastime with the lack of entertainment but considerable wealth that exists here in the country. Younger Saudi guys will party out on the streets, painting their faces and cars and in general will enjoy one of the few times that they can let their hair down out in public.

The Jeddah Corniche
Some Saudi youths celebrating in traditional and not-so-traditional garbs

I've been advised by many Saudis not to go out this evening, and I suspect it's because the celebrations can end up quite rowdy and wild during the night. Moreover, Jeddah's already busy traffic at night can become horrendous throughout the celebrations in the evening due to the huge amount of people wanting to go out, particularly those heading towards the Jeddah Corniche. An otherwise 15-minute journey can take up to 3-4 hours! celebrates Saudi National Day...
...but personally I prefer their 2009 design

Many thanks to my friend for providing me information on this public holiday and sharing some of her experiences with me. I wish you and every Saudi a happy Saudi National Day!

Some more information:

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