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Saudi Arabia celebrates its national day every September 23, and 2018 marks its 88th iteration.
Saudi National Day commemorates the name changing of what was previously known as the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Here’s your need-to-know guide.
The Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz was a dual monarchy made up of many dominions and tribes. In the early 1900s, the ruler of Nejd, King Abdul Aziz (known as Ibn Saud – or ‘son of Saud’ in the West), reconquered his family’s ancestral home city of Riyadh and began nearly three decades of conquests in the region. By 1932, his forces managed to gain control over most of central Arabia and he changed the name of his realm to his family name, the House of Saud. Saudi National Day celebrates the passing of this royal decree and is now a public holiday in the Kingdom.
In 2005, King Abdullah first acknowledged that September 23 was to become an official holiday for the kingdom. King Abdullah is known as one of the more progressive leaders of the country in recent history and encouraged national pride as well as public events and entertainment facilities in the kingdom. Prior to this, the only public holidays celebrated in Saudi Arabia were Muslim religious festivals such as the Eid and Hajj.
The day has since been celebrated annually and, over the years, as the country has loosened its strict regulations, the ways the day is celebrated have diversified.
For instance, celebrations in 2009 focused on the launch of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, one of the most ambitious educational initiatives in the country. The university was inaugurated by the late King Abdullah in the presence of a number of heads of state of the world. In 2014, the Jeddah Municipality launched the world’s tallest flagpole to mark the Saudi national day.
Saudi National Day is increasingly celebrated with folklore dances, traditional festivals and other cultural activities arranged in all major cities in the Kingdom.
This year, the 88th Saudi National Day falls on a Sunday – the event has been extended by a day on the orders of King Salman, meaning that September 24 is also an off day. Celebrations will include a four-day event taking place in Old Jeddah (also one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites), that will host 22 cultural activities including traditional poetry recitations, music concerts, art shows, and film events that will reflect on the country’s history while highlighting the talent and potential it has today.
In Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, a celebration called “Adwaa wa Atya” (Lights and Spectra) has been arranged which includes 3D ‘light’ shows, concerts, art exhibitions, and a pavilion set up that reflects on the country’s cultural heritage.
“It’s really an opportunity to get together with friends or family and just celebrating what our country means to us, how far it has come, and the progress we hope it will make in the near future,” says Faisal Alidarous, a 32-year-old Saudi based in Riyadh. “And these events are a great way for kids to learn about their heritage.”
Roads and buildings throughout the kingdom are also decorated with Saudi flags. Green balloons are handed out in parks and shopping malls and most restaurants and brands offer ‘national day discounts’.
“It’s pretty much just like how any country celebrates its national day, I guess,” says Rahma Mohamed, a 23-year-old Saudi based in Jeddah. “I don’t do much, as such, but driving around and seeing all the flags and people sometimes dressed in green makes me feel pride in my people. It’s just a day to be proud of our heritage. And, for me, it’s a day to sleep in late because it’s a holiday.”
The nearly 10 million immigrants in Saudi Arabia, a country with a total population of around 33 million, also take part in the celebrations and, for many, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the country’s history.
Emphasis has been placed by the General Entertainment Authority to focus on creating an opportunity to learn about the life and work of King Abdulaziz and how Saudi Arabia came to be. For instance, a public library has rare photographs of the King Abdulaziz from the early 1930s that show him interacting with the youth and tribal leaders of the newly created Saudi Arabia.
Overall, it’s a day to celebrate the heritage of Saudi Arabia, to appreciate its culture, and to promote pride in the country and its rich history.