Aramco’s Pioneering Female Pilots Get Their Wings
Miniature example of a traditional home in Riyadh. Photo by Arwa AlKhalifa.

On February 1, 2022, King Salman ibn AbdulAziz issued a decree that Founding Day will be celebrated every February 22, henceforth. We have been celebrating Saudi National Day since 2007, so what is the difference? Saudi National Day (which was actually established in 1965 by King Faisal ibn AbdulAziz ibn Saud) commemorates the anniversary of King AbdulAziz Ibn Saud unifying all of Arabia and establishing the country of Saudi Arabia in 1932. In contrast, the roots of Founding Day (sometimes translated incorrectly by Google as Foundation Day) go all the way back to 1727.

Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud established the very first Saudi State with the capital in Diriyah (outside present day Riyadh). His reign led to an era of peace and prosperity within Arabia. We celebrate the achievements of Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud during Founding Day which include establishing regular Majlis forums to promote economics, politics and science, protecting trade and Haj routes, as well as fortifying the walls of Diriyah. Founding Day objectives includes celebrating:

  • Saudi Arabia’s ancient civilization.
  • Close ties between citizens and their leaders.
  • Saudi Arabia’s unity, stability and security.
  • The strength of the first state and its defenses against enemies.
  • Saudi Arabia’s sustainability and the strength of its leaders.
  • National unity inspired by King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Faisal Al-Saud.

Founding Day’s surface looked similar to National Day. Saudi flags draped the streets, stores offered sales galore, and enormous posters adorned buildings. As I had the opportunity to enjoy a variety of Founding Day activities, I discovered we were going deep into Saudi culture and celebrating age-old handicrafts and traditions that I half-thought had disappeared. We were celebrating and appreciating what makes Saudi unique.

Festivities were held throughout the kingdom ranging from art-shows in Diriyah, Al Ula, and Jeddah, to concerts by Arab singers throughout the country (not to mention a show by Lauryn Hill in Al Ula), Ardha (traditional Saudi dance) performances in Damman and AlKhobar, the Saudi Cup race in Riyadh, and of course, exquisite dining experiences available everywhere imaginable.

The Ministry of Education promoted events for students during the weeks before and after February 22. I was fortunate enough to be invited to Al Yamamah University in Dhahran for what proved to be an amazing multi-media event. (Technically, I suppose one could say I was chaperoning my 12th graders, truthfully, I felt like an honored guest.) The university staff tried to insist my students stay in orderly lines as we entered the campus, but, my students are seniors, ready to see the world, not to mention enjoy every opportunity to be away from school.

Celebrating Saudi Roots
Bedu jewelry in background. Photo by Arwa AlKhalifa.
Celebrating Saudi Roots
Eastern Province display. Photo by Arwa AlKhalifa.

Our first view was of a traditional Bedu tent with dates and gahwa (Arabic coffee) to be served to the guests. Ardha dancers were lingering near the tent with swords and drums, waiting to perform. We watched a several groups of young people dancing, including children as young as four and five. Each group performed a folk dance from a different region of Saudi Arabia. A group of fifth grade girls, dressed in matching light blue, chiffon jalabiyas (loosely fitting dress), with white headscarves, performed a dance from the Qatif area which included plants (basil) they had grown to be planted during Ramadan.

Celebrating Saudi Roots
Eastern Province display with weaving from AlAhsa. Photo by Arwa AlKhalifa.
Celebrating Saudi Roots
Example of a typical painted door from Riyadh. Photo by Arwa AlKhalifa.

After enjoying the dances outside, university students ushered us into the multi-purpose room filled with demonstrations and displays from each of the primary sections in Saudi Arabia including: the Central Region (Riyadh, Qassim), the Eastern Region (Dammam, Khafji, AlAhsa), the Western Region (Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah), the Southern Region (Asir, Najran, Jizan), and the Northern Region (Tabuk, Jouf). The students staffing the exhibits were from the area they were representing and were both extremely knowledgeable and proud of their region. Presentations included handicrafts from the various regions, performers, food, and displays of everything imaginable: weavers weaving fans, baskets, and roses, traditionally painted doors, miniatures of typical homes, young poets reciting timeless poems, a young Imam-to-be singing the call to prayer, and so much more. We were laden with countless gifts: gahwa, dates, mamoul (cookies with a date filling), bouquets of basil, flowers, small crafts, not to mention colorful bracelets and customary Saudi cosmetics.

All too soon, our time at Al Yamamah University ended and we boarded our bus to head back to Dammam and school. Even as Saudi modernizes and embraces the goals of Vision 2030, the cultural traditions and roots of Arabia remain a vital part of life here.

About the Author: Leslie Homolka Craigmyle DH 80 is an Aramco brat whose family (George, Barbara, David RT 83, Caroline RT 84, Alice RT 86 and Ann RT 90) was in Dhahran and Ras Tanura from 1974-1991. George worked in Process Computers during his Aramco tenure. The story of George and Barbara’s retirement from Aramco and moving to George’s childhood home in the Czech Republic was featured in a June 2002 edition of Aramco Expats. Leslie returned to Arabia in August 2019 and teaches at an international school in Dammam. Email: