Nostalgic Ramadan traditions: Then and now

By Sahar Moussa

“Wake up, wake up, sleeping people! It is time for suhoor! Those who are not sleeping let them wake up those who are!” These are the words and the voice of the mesaharati that I used to hear during Ramadan when I was a little girl. I can still remember the sounds of his rhythmical drum beating – boom, boom, boom – loud enough to wake the neighborhood. The mesaharati walked everywhere, attired in traditional dress with a tarboush, knocking on doors and shouting in the early hours. Today, as this tradition is fading, I can still hear his voice and the drum beating, but only as a nostalgic memory from my childhood.

You can call me old-school, but yes, I do cherish the days when the family gathered around the table for iftar, where you could find traditional foods, family meals, late nights around the TV, last-minute races for suhoor, and the special Ramadan soaps, especially the fawazeer (riddles) presented by Nelly and Sherihan in the 1980s and 1990s.

During iftar, there used to be signature dishes specially made for Ramadan such as dates, fried potatoes, soup and fatoush as starters, three different kinds of main dishes, gillab or qamr al-deen – a drink that is usually made only in Ramadan – and qatayef with cream or kallag – sweets that are also linked to Ramadan – as desserts.

I miss the days when the family used to talk, discuss and crack jokes during iftar, when life was laidback and stress-free. The colorful and exciting decorations – the amazing and dazzling lights that illuminate the beginning till the end of the neighborhood, and the sounds of the children playing happily outdoors. These are the memories I carried with me from my country of birth, Lebanon.

When I came to Kuwait, I was introduced to new and unique Ramadan traditions such as graish – the pre-Ramadan feast when family members and neighbors gather before the beginning of the fasting month; Girgian – marked on the 13th, 14th and 15th nights of Ramadan – when children go ‘trick or treating’ to collect candies and nuts around the neighborhood; and ghabqa – a gathering of family and friends in the evenings of Ramadan.

As for food, I was introduced to tashreeb – the most essential dish for Kuwaitis that is made of bread, potatoes, meat and vegetables – and of course, Vimto. Women also compete to dress in their finest daraas (abayas) during visits by family and friends.

Way back in B.C. (Before COVID) – these traditions and customs were practiced. Unfortunately, last year the pandemic made it impossible for people to gather easily and celebrate the traditions that are part of the Ramadan atmosphere.
In the old days, people used to congratulate each other on the advent of Ramadan face-to-face or by a direct phone call, unlike nowadays, after the technological revolution took over our social lives and we began sending each other digital messages and greetings. As if this revolution was not enough to make people distant, the pandemic arrived to cut the last string of connection between human beings.

I know that the core of the holy month of Ramadan is fasting, praying, piety, charity and introspection. But it is also about family gatherings, reaffirming bonds and collecting unforgettable memories. Humans thrive and smile when they recall a scene, scent or a feeling from their childhood, but in the collision of the ancient and the modern, many traditions are fading. It is up to us to hold on to them and pass them to our children, so they can pass them to theirs.

Hoping this holy month will bring you peace of mind, health and prosperity. Ramadan Kareem!

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