A tradition is a social idea, circulating through generations with practice, because it signifies an identity, a sense of belonging and nostalgia. But not all customs in Kuwait are local in origin, many of our traditions have been adopted from other countries, as is the case in many cosmopolitan countries around the world. In Ramadan, most customs are centered on spirituality and food. Family gatherings always accompany sumptuous desserts and the latest food finds.
But the most colorful recently-adopted tradition of them all is the fanous Ramadan (plfawanees) – the Ramadan lantern. It’s considered an acquisition from countries such as Egypt. It is something worth addressing, since the Kuwaiti people are known for being conservative in the forms of celebrations of religious events.
Laterns are a long standing tradition in Ramadan, before electricity they would have been used to light up the night when many social activities take place as fasters met for meals and gatherings. Fanous, specifically, is thought to have originated with the Fatimad Caliphate, when Caliph Al-Muizz Lideenillah met with Egyptians at the start of the holy month to greet them for Ramadan and they held up colorful lanterns to mark the occasion.
A Kuwaiti woman told me that she’s buying them for the first time because she thought of adding a festive touch this year to welcome the holy month. Another customer purchased a dozen of the largest outdoor lanterns to decorate her home garden. Yet another customer bought tens of medium-sized lanterns to ship them to his friends in the United States.
One vendor said that the demand for fawanees Ramadan is increasing. “We import metal lanterns from Egypt, especially those that are handmade. Some are assembled in Kuwait,”he said, adding, “As an Egyptian, I feel glad when I see the people of Kuwait celebrating Ramadan by lighting lanterns as people do in my country.”
Kuwaitis who live abroad take their traditions with them. Drinking Vimto, making elgaimat (dough balls dipped in sugar syrup) and cooking and distributing harees (mashed barley with chicken or beef), along with the ghabqa (nightly dinner gatherings with family and friends) and Gergian, which is similar to the trick or treat ritual. Although the latter has been commercialized in the past few years, all these traditions have lasted decades and form the Kuwaiti face of Ramadan.
Story and images by Athoob A Al-Shuaibi