Saudi Arabians are shaped by their religion, their traditions and their land. Living in a society that has undergone tremendous development in the past several decades, the people of Saudi Arabia look at the present and the future through the prism of their time-honored and tested values and customs.
The traditions that dictate life in modern Saudi Arabia are based on Islamic teachings and Arab customs. These are taught youngsters at an early age in the confines of the family unit, by fathers and mothers, and later by schools that offer scientific, social and cultural education in a religious framework to prepare young Saudis for life in their unique society.
The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj season. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and spend the month in prayer. The culmination of this holy month is celebrated with Eid Al-Fitr, a national holiday that involves buying presents and clothes for children and visiting relatives and friends. It is a joyous occasion for young and old alike, with the streets and stores bustling with shoppers looking for gifts for their children or sweets and pastries for the large numbers of guests they expect.
The other highlight of the year is the Hajj season, during which hundreds of thousands of Saudi Arabians, as well as more than one million Muslims from around the world, descend on Makkah for the pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque. The conclusion of the Hajj season is the Eid Al-Adha, which is a national holiday, and which Saudis celebrate with visits to family and friends.
On the first day of the Eid Al-Adha Saudi families sacrifice sheep or other livestock and send at least one-third of the meat to the needy. They also arrange a feast that is open to family, friends and strangers. A feature of both the Eid Al-Fitr and the Eid Al-Adha is that morning prayers are performed in the open by the whole community.
Arab traditions also play an important role in the life of Saudi citizens. These have evolved over the millennia and are held in high esteem. One of these traditions is generosity and hospitality, which every Saudi family offers to strangers as well as family, friends and acquaintances. The simplest manifestations of this trait are coffee and incense.
City dwellers and Bedouin alike love coffee, and the preparation alone is an intricate part of their culture. Green coffee beans are roasted and ground with fresh cardamom in a mortar and pestle. The brewed coffee is served in small cups and offered with dates and sweets.
Another gesture of hospitality for guests is the burning of oud (incense). Honored guests are welcomed into the home, or even one’s office, with the burning of incense in hand-crafted mabakhir (incense burners) that in the past were made from clay or soft stone, but today are often crafted in metal.
Another tradition is the use of rosewater to flavor desserts, scent water offered to guests to rinse their hands, or sprinkle to freshen the air.
The influence of age-old traditions can be seen in the everyday life of Saudi Arabians, in their dress, poetry, music, dance, arts and crafts.