Eryn tore through the white lace curtains hanging between the family room and the corridor leading to the bedrooms with an excited scream. In her makeshift costume, she looked like a sunflower — half of her black, pink and gold abaya obscured by a bright yellow tutu. In one hand she held tight to a multi-coloured, glowing lantern and in the other, a fistful of her favourite candy.
She joined her two cousins who were decked out in fine clothes and the three girls laughed and screamed together as we desperately tried to wrangle everyone into their shoes and then into the car. Then, just as we stepped out of the house, we were met by a group of children coming along the road, singing for candy. Each one had a fantastically coloured costume — and together they took turns singing traditional songs and blessings upon Eryn and her cousins.
Over the last three nights, families throughout the Gulf region marked the celebration of Girgian. Traditionally held in-between the 13th and 15th of Ramadan, Girgian is a special children’s holiday where they dress up in fancy or national costumes and go door-to-door singing songs in exchange for small toys, sweets, nuts and decorative boxes.
Sounds a lot like Halloween, doesn’t it?
And that’s exactly how it was explained to me when we attended a Girgian event at the Kuwait Scientific Centre. While no one detailed the holiday’s actual origins, everyone I spoke to admitted that it was just like Halloween — just with a Gulf Arab flare.
One woman sadly lamented that Girgian just isn’t what it used to be when she was a child. Twenty years ago tonnes of children went door-to-door and neighbourhoods spent a lot of time decorating their homes in anticipation, handing out candy or homemade treats and really enjoying the sweet Ramadan entertainment as a community. Today, Girgian is slowly becoming more and more commercialized with grand public events at malls and ready-made sweet bags or Girgian treat boxes available for purchase at local supermarkets and souqs. Still, there remains plenty of children who excitedly make their own Girgian candy sacs and look forward to singing around the neighbourhood with their friends.
For someone who is always looking for new and interesting child-friendly Ramadan events, being a part of this celebration was an amazing treat. The happy, carnival-like atmosphere was incredibly infectious and I hope for Eryn’s sake, it helps create some fantastic childhood memories.
After parading around in their fancy dress, the three cousins ate traditional Yemeni crepes (thanks to their fantastic aunt who stood in line for an hour), had their faces painted, decorated bags, watched a magician, and sang songs with at least one hundred screaming children — while we parents enjoyed a little cardamon-laced coffee.
Well past midnight when the girls slept on our shoulders and the night was finally over, I caught sight of the full moon and was struck by how quickly the days of Ramadan are slipping by.
We’re halfway through the month. The last ten days of Ramadan will soon be upon us. And many people will be turning toward more devotional acts and events with special attention. Trying through prayer, reflection or dhikr to evoke a different kind of carnival — one that creates memories to nourish the soul.