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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: While Easter is not a widely celebrated holiday in Saudi Arabia, expatriate communities often gather with family and friends to mark the occasion.
The Kingdom has seen a huge transformation in its acceptance of the holiday as more tolerance is shown toward other cultural and religious occasions.
The growing popularity of social media platforms has allowed Saudis to learn more about Easter celebrations and traditions. With the country’s moves toward promoting coexistence and harmony, there has been increased exposure and curiosity among Saudis about different holidays celebrated by expats in the Kingdom.
Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa, the head of the Muslim World League, last December reiterated that there was no text in Shariah law that disallowed Muslims from extending greetings to Christians.
He indicated that congratulating non-Muslims on their holidays “is an apparent interest that serves the reputation of Islam.”
He added: “The purpose of these greetings is to promote coexistence and harmony in a world that is in dire need of that.”
Many expats might not expect it, but shops and online websites that deliver to Saudi Arabia do sell Easter holiday gifts and goodies. Certain Easter decorations are easy to find in any grocery store in the Kingdom.
Karam Al-Ain, an expat from Lebanon, enjoys sharing boiled eggs with his family and children to celebrate Easter.
He said: “We often celebrate the resurrection by telling stories about Jesus, followed by a family supper. We later shatter eggs. The eggs are boiled and colored to represent the blood that Jesus shed and, when cracked, his resurrection.”
Traditional Easter meals are prepared and enjoyed during these gatherings. Although these celebrations may be private, they provide a sense of community and connection for those who are far from their home countries during the holiday season.
The celebration of Easter is becoming more popular among the expatriate community in Saudi Arabia, and many Western businesses offer Easter-themed promotions.
The mall is home to several shops selling Easter items. Flying Tiger has all of its eggs and bunnies on display and, according to the salesperson, Saudis and foreigners living in the Kingdom like to buy such decorations.
The Flying Tiger has a variety of items that embody the Easter spirit, including egg hunt awards, items for coloring eggs, bunny baskets, wall decorations, and lots more.
The shop can be found in many locations in the country, including the eastern province at Al-Ahsa Mall, Mall of Dhahran, and Al Nakheel Dammam Mall.
The store can be found at The View Mall, and Al Nakheel Mall in Riyadh, and in Jeddah it is located at the Mall of Arabia.
Online retailers, notably Mumzworld, Desertcart and Noon, sell Easter-related decorations and children’s books which, although previously banned, are now easy to ship to any city in the Kingdom.
Expats can also order from Marks & Spencer, H&M Home, Pottery Barn and Next, for items such as rattan bunnies, Easter decorations, and packs of decorative eggs to hang around the house.
Traditional Easter meals in Saudi Arabia often include dishes common to Middle Eastern cuisine. Mansaf, a traditional Levantine dish made with lamb, rice, and yogurt, is a popular choice for an Easter dinner and at other festive occasions.
Expats who live in Riyadh can order mansaf from Alkofeia Restaurant, Beit Omar, Shamaya, Awani, Al-Mansaf Restaurant, and Bait Al-Mansaf.
The dish can be found in Jeddah at Al-Baider, Jordan Jafra and Mansaf Express. It is available in Dammam at Amman Castle and Fareej Al-Mubarakia.
Musakhan, a Palestinian dish of roasted chicken baked on bread, is also a favorite among some families and can be found in many restaurants around the Kingdom, including Zaroob in Jeddah, Bayader Al-Quds in Riyadh, and Al-Quds Restaurant in Alkhobar.
Easter coincides with the holy month of Ramadan and restaurants share in the occasion, with sweet dishes such as baklava and stuffed dates often served at this time.
Such dishes provide an opportunity for Christian Arab families and friends to come together while sharing traditional foods.
Exchanging gifts is also popular among expatriate communities in Saudi Arabia. Families often exchange Easter baskets filled with eggs, sweets and other treats.
Some families also paint eggs, allowing families to maintain their cultural traditions while creating a festive atmosphere during the holiday season.
Some expats celebrate in private areas like Nakheel Village in Riyadh, which marks Easter with an egg hunt for French families and their children.
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