On September 23, young Saudi men wearing grass-green t-shirts that match the colour of the Kingdom’s flags that they wave, gather in public places such as parks, commercial centres, exhibition halls and shopping malls in a rare expression of solidarity and patriotic fervour to celebrate Saudi National Day. While the young men celebrate by dancing in the street or take part in a procession of vehicles on the main streets of the cities with the national flag fixed on their cars, families attend official celebrations and ceremonies in museums and public auditoriums featuring dramatized presentations featuring scenes from the country’s history and culture as well as musical performances by the Saudi Arabia’s foremost performers.

A Modern Festival To Encourage Patriotism

Celebration of this kind is not only rare but also unconventionally modern and new in Saudi Arabia, where till a few years back, there were only two main festive celebrations, which were the religious holidays of Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha. It was only in 2005, that the National Day was officially decreed as a public holiday by the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. The day is observed to officially commemorate the unification of the Arab Bedouin tribes by the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its first ruler, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud.

When Green Reigns Over The Country

In a marked departure from the usual religious festivals of Eid which are celebrated twice in a year with appropriate solemnity and reverence throughout the country, Saudi National Day is a unique opportunity for the people of the nation to gather and express their patriotism for the country with a rare display of exuberance. The whole country wears a green look, as children and youth gather around wearing green shirts and cars displaying the fresh green national flag colours drive by through the main streets of the major cities.

One of the most popular attractions of the official ceremonies is the Ardah, the unique all-male Arab martial folk dance with swords. The Ardah is a unique sight featuring orderly groups of Saudi Arabian men dressed in their traditional garbs and headgear, rhythmically waving swords in time to the musical drumbeats. Originally, a preparatory ritual performed by the Bedouin tribes before going into a battle, the folk dance form has evolved into a much more organised display of patriotism today and is one of the highlights of the Saudi National Day celebrations. The participants wear traditional weaponry such as daggers and swords and the music is sometimes accompanied by recital of verses in Arabic. In some instances, the dancers wave canes instead of swords.

Culture And Tradition Find Expression

As part of the Saudi National Day celebrations, many cultural performances featuring Arabic singers take place. Akin to wedding celebrations, henna painting activities are held for women, face painting for children, and stalls selling traditional arts and handicrafts by tribal folk are set up at public halls throughout the country.

Their love of sports especially football take prominence during the celebration as men take part in football matches and families gather to cheer them on. The occasion is also a great opportunity for families to meet and greet each other over meals as food courts and make-shift tents offer large spreads of traditional Arabic cuisine. While the elder men gather at shisha cafes to smoke the traditional pipes, there are many cultural competitions for children to take part in such as poetry recitation and essay writing.

Songs, Cakes and Fireworks

The Saudi National Anthem is played at official functions to mark the opening of the celebrations of the Saudi National Day, which are followed by original song compositions which are a unique fusion of traditional Arab music and modern day influences from around the world. For the community of foreign expatriates living in the country and the international community, the National Day is significant because it heralds a change in the traditionally religious outlook of the country’s government. In many ways, it is a birthday part as cakes with innovative shapes in the form of forts are baked and candles are lit to commemorate the birth of the nation. Cavalry of soldiers mounted on horses and camels with vintage car rallies are another important part of the celebrations. One of the main processions happens along the Corniche, the road and promenade skirting the sea in the Eastern Province between Dammam and Al Khobar, where a procession of more than a thousand vehicles participate in a momentous flag waving ceremony. The day-long celebrations culminate with a pyrotechnic display that light up the evening skies with bright fireworks.

As a modern day festival, Saudi National Day possesses a unique character and is a curious mix of tribal and patriotic influences. It is definitely a significant festive occasion not only for the nationals but also for expatriates living in the country as well as diplomats to witness a nationalistic celebration which is definitely different from the religious festivals observed in Saudi Arabia.