Writer Yousef Alhumaidi discusses the festive experience in Kuwait.
What does December mean to me? December is the last month of the year in which we spend a lot of time studying and working. For me, it’s the month in which I set plans and visions for a new year full of success. Here in Scotland, people celebrate Christmas in December. Christmas is one of the most widely known celebrations, for which many customs and traditions are practised. When I came to the UK to study, I got the chance to witness this celebration and culture. I used to have only background knowledge about Christmas and this culture because I am a Muslim and an Arab Kuwaiti student from Kuwait.
Let me tell you about the atmosphere in Kuwait in December, during Christmas time. We in Kuwait have an old tradition: whole families meet in their grandfathers’ house weekly. We chat with each other, our cousins, old and young, men and women and children, play with each other and have meals together. This custom is also seen all year round here in Kuwait.
In fact, December is not much different from other months of the year, except that we go to the mainland for camping. This is a beautiful tradition in the winter season. The atmosphere of this annual camping is very unique, mainly because both friends and family gather in the camp. We also sometimes sleep there on the weekends.
Why do we go camping? Kuwait is a country where the summer temperature can reach 55 degrees Celsius, and the winter comes late; sometimes, the winter isn’t as cold as Scotland, but it may become freezing at night for a few days. This is why we go to the desert in remote areas, to feel the cold and winter.
After we set up our tents and put our luggage away, we light the fire and gather around it. We drink hot drinks that warm our bodies like heavy Arabic tea; Arabic coffee mixed with cardamom and saffron; and secret mixtures that I will not tell you about until you try them! There is also tea with milk, or what is now called “Karak” because it is our winter drink.
We play traditional card games in such gatherings, and the two games that are most famous in Kuwait are Kout and Hand. Each game has its own rules for calibrating points in order to win. When we play these card games, some of our friends do hilarious challenges while playing. For example, the loser in any game has to buy “Kunafa” for everyone; a very popular and delicious Arabic sweet that you should definitely try.
This camping trip distinguishes each of us because we have the opportunity to show off our cooking skills. I do enjoy cooking, and the festive season is my chance to dive into all kinds of cuisines for various family gatherings. I cook many foods such as Kuwaiti, Arabic, and Italian dishes.
We also have another hobby that we like to practice throughout the season: hunting. We have amateurs and professionals in the family, and our friends also prepare and arrange hunting equipment to hunt birds, uromastyxs, and jerboas. A uromastyx is a wild animal that looks like a dinosaur but is very small. These activities are what we consider essential for December and during the Christmas holidays.
Our priority in December is the warmth of family gatherings in this cold season, and it is an invaluable opportunity to spend time with family and loved ones. Cultures do differ in terms of celebrations and events. Your December might involve Christmas or Chinese New Year, or Eid al-Fitr. These might be occasions of different times and places and religions, but what I think we can all connect on, is the gathering of family and friends, old and new, to celebrate something at this time of year, whatever that looks like for you.