In Saudi weddings, small is the new beautiful
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 kingdom are typically lavish affairs, with a bulging guest list which is seen both as a social obligation and a symbol of affluence.
Such expectations are often a source of economic strain for grooms, who foot most of the bill which includes renting out exorbitantlypriced marriage halls where nuptial celebrations are usually held.
But millennials like Basil Albani are increasingly hosting weddings at home, defying family traditions and social pressure and making huge savings instead.
Fewer than two dozen close relatives and friends were invited to the 26-year-old insurance executive’s recent wedding feast comprising kabsa — a traditional rice and meat dish — at his ancestral home in western Jeddah city.
“People go all crazy with weddings, inviting hundreds of guests and spending millions in one night to get the best singers, best bands, best thobes,” said Maan Albani, the 21-year-old brother of the groom, dressed in a gold-trimmed cloak. BIGGEST MARKET Although prevalent for years, home weddings symbolise a war on excess by the country’s youth as much as they are a barometer of the lagging economy. They appear to be gaining popularity in a new age of austerity amid low crude prices.
Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest concentrations of super rich households.
But with cuts to cradle-to-grave subsidies and a new value-added tax amid soaring youth unemployment, Saudi households are seeing stagnating disposable incomes and what experts call a lifestyle downgrade.
Annual spending on marriages in the kingdom exceeds two billion Saudi riyals ($533 million), the highest in the Arab world, organisers of the Saudi international wedding fair said last year.
Statistics on frugal home marriages are hard to come by, but two wedding planners with a large Saudi clientele said that average spending on marriages had dropped by 25 per cent 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 per cent over the period, as many customers demand rich designs at cheaper prices.
People enjoy rides over the frozen Hou Hai lake in Beijing, China, on Sunday.
Saudi groom Basil Albani poses for a selfie with his friends during his wedding at his home in Jeddah.