I remember the good ol’ days when my siblings, cousins and I – with a few random neighborhood kids – would gather in our dara’a’s/dishdasha’s and long-strap totes hanging around our necks going on our Gergai’an rounds. We were excited – elated – at the very notion of the Khaleeji version of Halloween, trick-or-treating that would start from the 13th till the 15th night of Ramadan.
We popped from house-to-house, unsupervised which was okay back then because everyone knew everyone in their neighborhoods singing (“Gergai’an oo gergai’an, bait gsayer wermaithan. A’adat a’alaikum seyam, kel sena o kel a’am. Yallah khaley [insert name], yallah khalha le’omha. A’sa elbaj’a matkhemha, wala twazey a’ala omha” and “O salim [insert name] yallah, khaleh le’omma yallah”) and thrusting our bags out with smiles plastered on watching candy was poured into our bags.
Gergai’an consisted of nuts, multicolored goodies and those ever sentimental chewy candies in yellow and red wrapping with the cow printed on them. I remember we had a neighbor who would give every kid one piece of candy, One only! But it didn’t matter because we loved getting anything at that ever-so-naive age – and to those neighbors who had nothing prepared for us when we came a-singin’, we had something to say to them: “Wees wees fee baytkom ja’amees” which translates loosely to “Tsk tsk your house is full of bad things.”
A few years ago though, things started to change. The Gergai’an I remembered and took part in changed. Instead of walking from house to house, kids nowadays pile into a car sometimes going as far as renting limousines, and stop in front of houses with their speakers blaring recordings of the traditional songs, the ones that we used to sing with pride. Nowadays they don’t wear the traditional dress, but wear casual clothing demanding modern candy – you know, Snickers and Twix?
Gergai’an now is not the simple version of treats we used to get; people now hand out fancy custom-wrapped bags or boxes of candy. Getting nuts in your tote now is like having broccoli for dinner – it’s not fashionable apparently.
It’s really unfortunate that what used to be an innocent, pure, and simple event which was a good source of fun for us back then, has almost completely lost its meaning. I wouldn’t be surprised if people started handing out Paatchi and Godiva to kids clad in designer duds next year. But I’d like to think that no matter how many modifications have been made; Gergai’an will remain an authentic tradition that comes as a welcomed festivity in the middle of Ramadan, one which helps further add to the whole month’s atmosphere and makes it even more special.
– Nourah Al-Shammari
Originally Published in August 2009.