Glimpses of Ramadan: Between the Old and the New

As soon as Ramadan arrives, you would hear people here and there complaining about how different Ramadan was back in the old days, whatever period of time they are referring to. Probably no one would argue about this, yet some of Ramadan’s old charm is still reserved in the old traditions, and renewed in other new ones.

As you go around Amman, you would notice the glistening electric Helals shining from doors and windows, sometimes with little flashing stars attached to them. This has been around for a few years, and people seem to have taken a liking to it, hanging them up several days before Ramadan begins to spread the joy and spirit of the holy month. Those Helals are now no less a hallmark of Ramadan than lanterns were and still are.

Originally Posted on Monday, September 17, 2007 on

Another integral part of Ramadan’s tradition is Gatayef, which have been the main sweet treat in Ramadan for ages. Having been around for so many years, people managed to create different variations of Gatayef other than the traditional Gatayef bjibneh (white cheese) and Gtayef bjoz (with walnuts). Now we even have Gatayef with Nutella, a great combination of Oriental and Western goodies. Although restaurants seem to take the plunge in Ramadan, sweet shops on the other hand seem to be pretty busy, which makes perfect sense after a long day of low blood sugar levels, and the usual family gatherings. Not to mention bakeries, with the exclusive Ramadan bread, which I personally think is the tastiest bread ever! Maybe that’s why on the first day of Ramadan, when there didn’t seem to be traffic jams on the main streets, the are arounf Al-Sufara bakery was suffocating with traffic!

Television too represents a very important part of Ramadan, in the past and present alike. From religious programs to quiz shows and Arabic TV series that are mass produced for the purpose of being showed during Ramadan, and continue to be repeated over and over on Arabic channels throughout the year and the years to come. Some of those had been associated with Ramadan, such as “Alf lailah w lailah” (1001 nights) which was very popular many years ago. Syrian Drama has also claimed its place on TV in Ramdan with many successful series, such as Maraya that was a main show during Ramadan for several years, and hasn’t stopped until the last year or the year before.

One of the most successful experiences was “Ayyam Shamiyyeh”, which was a Syrian drama series that depicted the life of Damascus in the beginnings of the 20th century. The series was a hit, and it was followed in the later years by similar ones, many of which appealedto people but none as much as the original one. The latest one is “Bab el7ara 2”, which is the sequel of a series that was shown last Ramadan and proved to be a success. Many people follow this series eagerly, not only women or elderly people, but also kids and teenagers, especially boys who wait impatiently for fights to ensue between the good guys and the bad guys. The series seem to have a secret charm, in that it relates to the old traditional Arab we hold deep within us that is reflected in “el za3eem”, “el zgorty” or “Feryal khanom”.

Away from TV, perhaps the best the best time of the day to take a walk and relieve some stress is after Iftar, when everyone is going to Taraweeh prayer, while the streets are semi-empty and the whole atmosphere smells of blessings and tranquility. A great treat after having a good meal so late in the evening. Both for the body and soul.

Each year Ramadan comes to us carrying lots of blessings, and spreading a unique spirit of joy and serenity. Some things may have change and may change in the future, but there are certain things that are more likely than not to stay as a part of Ramadan, things that pass from generation to generation, carrying the old charm from fathers to sons, connecting them with the timeless charm and blissful spirit of a month that brings everyone together with love, abundance and purity.

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