Why I Love The Janadriyah Cultural Heritage Festival

It’s almost time for the annual Janadriyah Cultural Heritage festival, organized in 2013 for the 28th time. I for one have been waiting for this festival for months. I truly love going to Janadriyah and have been there every year since I came to Saudi in 2008 and some years I went on several days. The festival has surely changed a lot over the years but some things remain the same like the cheerful atmosphere.

I think every expat in Saudi should visit this festival, not just to see the beautiful architecture, heritage and traditions of the various provinces, but to experience what the Saudi people are truly made of. This is such a unique chance to interact with Saudis from all over the Kingdom and embrace their culture.  If you plan on going make sure you check out this post for Blue Abaya’s Top Ten Recommended Things To Do At Janadriyah Festival to make the most of your experience!

The feeling of joy and happiness at Janadriyah are simply contagious. One simply cannot go to this festival and leave with a sour face! It’s impossible! Everyone enjoys Janadriyah! Unless of course…

You happen to be member of the Saudi religious police, who do not find this festival fun. At all. But hey, that’s their loss.

Time to take a cultural bath!

Trust me you will be surprised if you thought Saudis are rigid and don’t know (or want to) have fun. Boy are you in for a shocker! At Janadriyah you will see Saudi women men and children laughing and having fun in public some dressed in funny outfits or wearing wigs,  hats and over sized glasses. Many women will be wearing beautiful decorations on their veils and men can be seen donning flowers in their hair! Who would have thought?

At Janadriyah village you will find the young and the old, the city people and the desert dwellers, the professors and the farmers, Sunni and Shii’a, craftsmen and women, Saudis of all backgrounds, colors and regions come together. Millions of Saudis flock here every year.

Janadriyah unites the Saudis.

That is what the true magic of this festival is all about. The national pride, the unity and the sense of togetherness just can’t be experienced quite the same as it can be at Janadriyah.

Janadriyah is like a social experiment. An experiment that exceeds all expectations. An experiment which should be an eye opener to many. Saudis are fully capable of behaving in normal and decent ways despite the gender mixing going on, of course, why wouldn’t they!

I never once was harassed or approached in a negative way there, EVER.

And let me tell you that I’ve visited this festival a total of 13 times with many friends of different races who share the same positive experiences. Everyone was genuinely welcomed and shown respect. No leering, outrageous flirting, passing of mobile numbers and thank goodness no grabbing or groping. All of these on the other hand, I’ve experienced in malls or on the streets in KSA. So how is that for proof that allowing normal human interactions in the public sphere of Saudi Arabia does not result in chaos and men jumping on women (which some people are convinced were to happen if gender mixing were allowed).

To some Saudis at the festival, a foreign visitor is almost as much of an attraction as the actual festival. Saudi women will come up to foreign women (especially blondes I guess) for a photo, or they will secretly film us with their cameras and phones. They might be giggling, in this instance not in a bad way but a genuinely curious and friendly way. The women might be shy to approach you so I would recommend foreigners take the initiative even if you don’t know any Arabic. You will not regret it. They will want to welcome you to their country, know where you’re from and what you think of the Kingdom. Some might want to show you around and explain the things going on.

Notice the “secret” photographers in the background :) We later talked to them and took lots of group photos.
“Welcome to Saudi-Arabia” is the most common phrase a foreigner will hear at Janadriyah. I encourage everyone to embrace the culture, get to know the Saudis. Laugh with them, dance with them, joke around with them. You will soon realize that they are just like anyone, like you and me. Don’t be afraid to make the connection. You will remember these times for the rest of your life as the best moments of your time in Saudi Arabia.
Now I’ve been around a lot of expats here and I’ve heard over and over how it’s impossible to meet Saudis or talk to them and how Saudis are such “insert negative adjective here” people. If you never met any let alone spoke to them, how can you even make a statement like that? There are rotten apples in every country and culture. Don’t be that rotten apple of YOUR culture by thinking that Saudis are all bad.

Don’t judge the whole nation just because when you went to the shopping mall a woman cut you in line or a man didn’t open the door for you. Accept that there are differences in our cultures. Now I for one can say this is not always easy. I do rant, I do complain sometimes. But you know what guys? I still keep an open positive mind. I refuse to become bitter, hateful and isolate myself from the culture I happen to live in. Some of us are here voluntarily because we were interested in the culture and the country, many came just for the money, some followed their spouses and were thus “forced” to come.

Get out of your bubbles and compounds and visit Janadriyah with an OPEN heart and mind is my advice to you :) Leave your prejudices at home. Drop your guard. Open your mind.

The following is a photo collage from previous experiences from the festival over the years. Please DO NOT use these images without my permission. These are some of my most cherished memories and moments from the Magic Kingdom and I am sharing them with you to spread the joy and bridge the cultural gaps out there!

Notice the bloke on the left? Definitely not a Saudi but he has joined the Makkah region wedding parade. Looks like he really embraced the culture!

P.S I spent many days compiling this post for your enjoyment :)
P.P.S. The woman appearing in the photos is a good friend of mine who has worked the past five years in KSA and truly loves the Saudi culture!

 

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  • BeckyMarch 16, 2013 - 5:27 am

    Wonderful post and photos such a positive message that you are sending!

    You make me wish I were in Saudi Arabia! Did I just say that out loud???ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousMarch 16, 2013 - 6:36 am

    OMG amazing photos. I was just about to ask who the lady was who we always see in your photos she looks really friendly lol and then i saw u mentioned who she was after the post.
    Thanks for more beautiful photos can’t wait to see more.
    p.s. the men wearing flowers in their hair are so adorable.ReplyCancel

  • AmyMarch 16, 2013 - 8:35 am

    I really enjoy your photos. You have such a talent for capturing the essence of your subjects. This is a wonderful blog post. I would love to be in KSA during the Janadriyah Cultural Heritage Festival someday.ReplyCancel

  • FeliciaMarch 16, 2013 - 10:17 am

    You convinced me to visit Riyadh again….now I have to convince my husband to make the trip :)

    Janadriyah is amazing and you truly captured the atmosphere in each of our photo’s!ReplyCancel

  • NoorMarch 16, 2013 - 12:16 pm

    I love the festival as well, cant wait. I always feel so relaxed there.ReplyCancel

  • LaylaMarch 16, 2013 - 6:19 pm

    Thank you Becky :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylaMarch 16, 2013 - 6:20 pm

    anon-I think the babas are really cute too, they call them the flower men of Saudi Arabia!ReplyCancel

  • LaylaMarch 16, 2013 - 6:20 pm

    Hi Amy thanks so much for the kind words! Hope you can experience it someday!ReplyCancel

  • LaylaMarch 16, 2013 - 6:22 pm

    Felicia-thank you so much, are you going to come just for he festival and from where? Best to book a hotel early :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylaMarch 16, 2013 - 6:22 pm

    Noor, true I feel so relaxed there as well, the atmosphere is so laid back.ReplyCancel

  • Omani Princess (not Omani...yet)March 17, 2013 - 9:54 am

    So awesome! Next year I will try to go! I didn’t know Saudi had a festival like this at all.:)ReplyCancel

  • SoileMarch 17, 2013 - 10:40 am

    Can’t wait to go there again next year!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah AliMarch 17, 2013 - 5:29 pm

    I went to this festival last year and I thought is was a welcome respite from the rigidities of living in Riyadh. I remember I went into a women’s area with everyone watching a concert. Some women, a group of about 5 started dancing, just swaying to the beat. Immediately a mutawa came with his little stick yelling, “La tafasad”, meaning not to lower your morale. The young ladies were forced to leave with their mother, lamenting as they had to walk out. I did really enjoy the festival though, it is truly impressive. This is my third gulf festival. Oman has a wonderful one as well and I went to a new one in UAE in “Al wathba” near Abu Dhabi this year. It was amazing they had famous Arab singers there and free camel and horse rides for children. They are rare opportunities to understand the regions culture.ReplyCancel

  • rahizhassanMarch 18, 2013 - 7:02 am

    Thank you for the post..looking forward to visit the festival, first day itself.ReplyCancel

  • LaylaMarch 18, 2013 - 9:45 pm

    OMani Princess and Soile-I hope you both get to visit next year!ReplyCancel

  • LaylaMarch 18, 2013 - 9:47 pm

    Hi Sarah thanks for letting us know about these festivals, do you know the time they usually arrange them and what is the Omani one called?ReplyCancel

  • A Free SpiritMarch 19, 2013 - 1:40 pm

    Good pictures..All you need is love..With your love and understanding ,the Saudis will go out of their shell.If not this year,the year after . “Inshallah”.ReplyCancel

  • FayezMarch 20, 2013 - 10:48 am

    Apparently Jackie Chan’s coming to the festival this year as a cultural ambassador representing China!

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/micro-reading/dzh/2013-03-19/content_8532756.htmlReplyCancel

  • FeliciaMarch 20, 2013 - 11:25 am

    Layla: You’re welcome :) Yah, I was thinking of driving out there for the festival. We are coming from Ras Tanura.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah AliMarch 23, 2013 - 12:53 pm

    Hi Layla,

    The one in UAE was in winter, the thing is they advertised it in Arabic primarily.

    They call the festival in Oman, the Muscat Festival. Here is the website.

    http://www.muscat-festival.com/ReplyCancel

  • BaldrickMarch 27, 2013 - 8:44 am

    Thanks for this page.
    Every year I’ve wanted to go and every year something has come up, but this could be my lucky year.
    Any idea about the schedule? Family day? VIP day? Men only day?ReplyCancel

  • David KellyApril 5, 2013 - 9:17 am

    I drove an hour and a half to get to the festival with my wife last nite only to be refused entry at the gate! The guard who stopped us would not even attempt to speak to us to give us a reason only looked away but thankfully another guard shouted over “No women allowed til the day after tomorrow.” So much for the wonderful atmosphere of men and women mixing together!
    ReplyCancel

  • LaylaApril 5, 2013 - 10:12 am

    Sorry to hear that David!
    I guess rule number one for any event in the kingdom is to check the family and men only days before going to avoid these kinds of situations..but they’ve happened to all of us at some point, do not fret!

    Like I mentioned on this blog before and the Blue Abaya FB page, family days will start next Monday and until then it is men only.

    I do hope you will give it another go and try to put this setback behind you and maybe look at it as one of those “only in saudi” moments :)ReplyCancel

  • fatima walyApril 20, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    visited the festival last Friday for the first time , wasnt sure what to expect , but we had a wonderful time with so many amazing things to see , just looking through your photos brought back memories of the great night so many thanksReplyCancel

  • fatima walyApril 20, 2013 - 4:00 pm

    thank you for the wonderful photos , visited the festival last Friday we had a wondeful time so many amazing things to see , so thanks again for sharing your photosReplyCancel

  • fatima walyApril 20, 2013 - 4:01 pm

    visited the festival last Friday for the first time , wasnt sure what to expect , but we had a wonderful time with so many amazing things to see , just looking through your photos brought back memories of the great night so many thanksReplyCancel

  • Mr ThompsonApril 28, 2013 - 11:32 am

    Thank you Layla for showing us this side of Saudi and expressing your enthusiasm for the culture. I definitely need to come and experience this festival as I have become one of the negative expats I am afraid!! My main complaint unfortunately, is how I see many Saudis treating the more vulnerable expats out here (Philippinos, Bangladeshis etc). How do I overcome my feelings in this respect? My kindest regards,ReplyCancel

  • Mr ThompsonApril 28, 2013 - 11:33 am

    Thank you Layla for showing us this side of Saudi and expressing your enthusiasm for the culture. I definitely need to come and experience this festival as I have become one of the negative expats I am afraid!! My main complaint unfortunately, is how I see many Saudis treating the more vulnerable expats out here (Philippinos, Bangladeshis etc). How do I overcome my feelings in this respect? My kindest regards,ReplyCancel

  • Meegan AinslieJanuary 24, 2014 - 10:23 am

    love the Janadriyah festival!!! hope to go again this year ReplyCancel

  • Arv HardinFebruary 8, 2014 - 8:01 pm

    My wife and I lived in KSA for almost 12 years and enjoyed being there and amongst the Saudi and Expat peoples. Berni went to Janadriyah with women’s groups once or twice. I never did go, which I regret. Becoming more familiar with other cultures is important for all of us and for the development of future peace and harmony. These pictures are great and bring to light so many positive aspects of Saudi life. Thanks for this!
    ReplyCancel

  • […] Why should I visit the festival? Find out the answer here!  […]ReplyCancel

  • Joy A NeumannMarch 13, 2014 - 5:00 am

    lived here most of my life and I am so glad you embrace your life here!! thanks for sharing!!ReplyCancel

  • Sue MoarApril 10, 2014 - 8:42 pm

    I was lucky enough to go there February 2012..it is wonderful
    ReplyCancel

  • […] For more info and imagery of Janadriyah festival please go here: Why I love Janadriyah  […]ReplyCancel

  • […] village on the outskirts of Riyadh. Images from previous Janadriyah festivals check these posts: Why I love Janadriyah Festival  and Janadriyah […]ReplyCancel

  • ghadaFebruary 18, 2016 - 5:48 am

    okay wow rudeee?? men dont wear the flower crows to be “silly” its a symbol of strength in some regions :)ReplyCancel

    • Arabian LauraFebruary 18, 2016 - 3:18 pm

      Glad you took the time to try and find something negative to get offended about and complain, and that you found it even in an super positive post that is about the beauty and friendly character of the Saudis (which I’m assuming you are too?) :)

      So congratulations on that accomplishment.

      have a nice day!ReplyCancel

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