Saudi Arabia's full embrace of Halloween is delighting foreign residents and Saudis alike, as pumpkins, lights and ghoulish decorations spring up around malls and homes in the kingdom.
Ryan Davidson, an American national, spent some of Thursday shopping for a werewolf costume in Riyadh for a Halloween party at the weekend.
“Never would I have imagined Halloween here being such a big deal as it is in the US … I am really excited for this weekend.”
But it wasn't always this way.
Many foreign nationals say Halloween and Christmas used to be celebrated quietly until Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 was announced, which helped liberate religious and other festivals celebrated by the kingdom's diverse population.
Fahad Alzowaid, a store manager at decoration and costume store Party Experts in Riyadh, said he was enjoying seeing the happiness the holiday brought to people.
“Everyone is buying make up, costumes and props to celebrate it,” he said.
“People are lining up and waiting up to 40 minutes just to buy costumes. The government has been great at controlling the pandemic and has helped avert this disaster.”
But Covid-19 is still a concern with a tradition that usually involves participants going door-to-door to collect sweet treats from homes in their neighbourhoods.
Rates of the virus have dropped in the kingdom in recent weeks, with daily cases hovering at about 50. Saudi Arabia has registered 548,530 cases since the start of the pandemic.
“Things are getting better but I am ensuring there are masks and limited gatherings for the safety of our children,” said Ghada Batarjee, a Saudi national, who is creating an immersive experience “with spooky carved-out pumpkins, webs, lanterns and costumes” for her friends and children at home on Friday.
“We have been celebrating every year but now its more widespread as the government has opened up interactive events, stores and other entertainment venues,” she said.
“It's so much fun for the kids — they love trick-or-treat, going down the road. Most of our neighbours have neon lights and signs saying 'ring the bell for treats' and it helps bring the community together in a festive way.”
Malls around the kingdom are selling Halloween-inspired costumes and decorations, while bakeries and supermarkets are capitalising on the pumpkin season and are offering items for those celebrating Halloween.
“We have events in our compound every year, with competitions for best dressed, but it was hard to source decorations and costumes locally up until now,” said Natasha Ahmed, a South African national visiting the Mall of Arabia in Jeddah.
“Today, we are in the malls and everywhere you go, you can easily find them.”
This year, people can attend public Halloween events with their families, including Horror Adventures at Riyadh Season’s Winter Wonderland, which has a haunted house, a scary maze and games.
In the capital, people can also drive up to the Tuwaiq Palace parking area in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh for trick-or-treating and participate in fun competitions for the whole family.
Syrup Lounge in Riyadh is hosting a costume party for children and a ladies' night that includes games, family activities and more.
Even fitness enthusiasts can celebrate Halloween at gyms that are hosting special events during Halloween. Rebel 1 gym is hosting “heart-pumping” sessions and offering treats.
“Imagine, Saudis used to travel abroad to experience these activities and now our government has brought them home so we can enjoy them here with our friends and families,” Enas Abdullah, a Saudi national living in Riyadh tells The National.
“We are dressing up as Squid Games characters and my cousins are coming as vampires.”