The end of the year is drawing nigh and for we western types who wrote ‘Christian’ on our visa to get into this country, whether we are practicing or not, that means Christmas and New Year are also fast approaching. If you’re relatively new to Saudi Arabia you’ve likely figured out by now that Christmas is not celebrated here. Not in public anyway. There is no holiday. No carols over mall sound systems. No publicly decorated trees with decorative balls, fat santas or reindeer. Expats, unless they have applied for a day off, are expected to be working on Xmas Day.
It’s fair to say the festive mood is a little toned down in Saudi. Seasoned expats staying in Saudi over the Christmas season will know that seasonal activities on December 25th will likely be private invites to private dinners, so if you haven’t got any yet, go make some friends quick smart.
Decking out your compound home with festive decorations is not for the time management challenged expats who think they can wait till the last minute to deck their halls with boughs of holly. Anything even vaguely Christmas looking begins to be removed from shops around about November, so you should have bought your red and green tinsel at the latest in early October.
Keeping your ear to the ground for notice of end of year compound bazaars will score quite a few nice decorations into December, many handmade by crafty expats. But compound bazaars are pretty much over and done by the end of the first week of December – not good news for the last minute decorator! I’m usually a last minute decorator. It feels kind of strange tonight, though I’m also rather chuffed, to be sitting here looking at decorations that have been hanging from the tree in our apartment, an evergreen scraggly looking thing I bought at Sultan Gardens, since December 1st.
I don’t like plastic trees much, so a real tree, even if not exactly a pyramid shape that doesn’t fill the house with pine smells, gives me warm, fuzzy feelings when I look at the results of my creative garnishing and the lights are twinkling in the lounge. Even the Hubster, who initially thought I was crazy, was suitably impressed.
My friend, Miss Margaret, could rarely make it to the Bazaars because she was a working woman here in Riyadh. So she would make her own home made decorations out of treasures she’d dig out from a couple of local shops. I would tag along because her enthusiasm was infectious and I thought her creative spark might rub off on me. (It didn’t!)
The first place she’d usually go for crafty bits is Al Sharq stationary shop in Al Owayis souq. It may not look like much from the outside, but inside can be a treasure trove for the homemade craft decorator with creative flair. She’s walked out with styrofoam balls of varying sizes, glue and glitter, card making supplies, beads, star shapes and feather boas.
DMC Accessories Store, in one of the Circon buildings down Musah bin Nasser St, and the Ribbon Souq, located in small corner of Al Owayis, are two places with plentiful colorful, shiny and baubled materials to make decorations for any occasion, not just Christmas. And you can get service with a smile. Limited English, but a smile.
As an aside to this story, in one shop we found a couple of vintage looking sewing machines for sale. There haven’t been many sewing machines for sale in Saudi since 2009 when a rumour gripped the country that Singer Sewing machines contained a magical substance called Red Mercury that could turn you into a genie and grant you anything you desired (or something like that). Sewing machines were being stolen left, right and center. If you weren’t into theft, the prices to buy a machine sky rocketed upwards of 50,000SR by some reports.
Of course, there is no such thing as magical mercury out of sewing machines.
That was a hoax for the truly gullible.
Though I do think people who can sew, particularly those who create garments from their own patterns, are brilliantly talented, and in that sense, quite magical, because I can’t even sew a straight seam!
But back to our home made creativity.
Jariir bookstore has a fairly decent art section with bits and pieces that could easily be given a Happy Holiday flair. When the grandkids were here I bought paints and boxes and let them loose expressing their artistic side.
If you have someone who can drive, you can do a run to Al Zamil stores in Al Khobar for a rummage through their party and art supplies.
Those are just some of the places you can go to find bits and pieces to turn into your own version of Christmas ornaments. But really, the beginnings of creative pieces can be found all over this city. Dirrah souq has loads of pieces that can enhance a Christmas scene, like camel candles. old lamps and Morrocan lanterns – just add your finishing touch to them.
Of course, those not wishing to spend this traditional family time in Saudi Arabia can always high tail it to places more tolerant of the Xmas season and get their decorating, carol singing, gift giving and family togetherness fix in various other parts of the world. I’m doing that this Christmas. I’m going home.
Best of the Season to y’all.