Small is beautiful for Saudi nuptials
Couples eschew big ceremonies amid slow economy
JEDDAH: It was a Saudi wedding like any other – clutching a decorative sword, the groom bobbed and swayed in a traditional dance.
But there was one striking difference – a tiny guest list.
Weddings in the oil-rich kingdom are typically lavish affairs, with a bulging guest list seen as a social obligation and a sign of affluence.
Such expectations are often an economic strain for grooms, who foot most of the bill, including renting out the requisite exorbitantly-priced marriage halls.
But millennials like Basil Albani are hosting weddings at home, defying family traditions and social pressure while making huge savings in the process.
Fewer than two dozen close rela- tives and friends were invited to the 26-year-old insurance executive’s recent wedding feast at his ancestral home in western Jeddah city.
It was microscopic by Saudi standards.
“People go crazy with weddings, inviting hundreds of guests and spending millions in one night,” said Maan Albani, the 21-year-old brother of the groom.
“We wanted to do something different which can also be fun.”
Although prevalent for years, home weddings symbolise a war on excess by the youth as much as a barometer of the lagging economy.
They appear to be gaining popularity in a new age of austerity amid low crude prices.
With cuts to cradle-to-grave sub- sidies and a value-added tax amid high youth unemployment, Saudis are seeing stagnating incomes and a lifestyle downgrade.
And there are signs of an impact on the Saudi wedding market.
Annual spending on marriages in the kingdom exceeds two billion riyals (RM2.18bil), the highest in the Arab world, Saudi wedding fair organisers said last year.
Two wedding planners said spending on marriages dropped by 25% over the past year, with many trimming back the pomp and pageantry.
A retailer of wedding invitation cards in Riyadh said business fell by 70% over the period, as many customers demand rich designs at cheaper prices.
Modest joy: Basil in his home during his wedding in Jeddah.