Fanous laterns are a popular Ramadan accessory used throughout the Middle East during the holy month when much of social life shifts to night time. - Photo by Athoob Al-Shuaibi

The holy month of Ramadan is here and people are gearing up for a month of fasting, prayer and doing good deeds. Ramadan is a month of happiness, because it drives us to relive the memories of our childhood every year and pass them down through generations. What does Ramadan leave in you? And how do you remember it?

Throughout the world, religious occasions are often linked with family gatherings, food and drink, besides worship. So when I asked these questions to people, the first answer was inevitably one regarding food. Among the most popular dishes that stirred nostalgic memories of Ramadan: white bulgur soup and red jelly!

"My mother makes these two dishes only during Ramadan - they are symbolic and delicious too!" said Sanaa Ali Sana, a college student. Meanwhile, Khalid Al-Ali, also a college student, enthusiastically said: "Tashreeb, which is made of layers of crepe soaked in chicken or beef stew; and elgaimat, dough balls dipped in sugar syrup. Ramadan will not be the same without them!"

Sharing food, a local tradition

Hanouf Bader, a housewife, said every Thursday in Ramadan, she cooks a large quantity of a traditional Kuwaiti dish called harees - mashed barley with shredded beef and chicken -  and distributes it to the neighbors. It's naflah, food charity, she said, and feels proud when they call her after they break their fast to tell her that every year they always look forward to it because it's the best!

The liveliness of this month is similar to celebrations in the past, even if some manifestations of the celebration have changed or disappeared. Hayat Al-Qattan, a retired employee, recalls Ramadan in Kuwait when life was a lot simpler, yet harder.

"When I was nine, or 11 - I can't remember - my friends and I played sharrookah, where each one of us brought an ingredient to cook a meal. Some of us got rice, another provided the water, while others brought fat and onions. After that, we used to gather twigs and rocks and cook in one of the neighborhood's corners. I used to live in the Al-Mutabba neighborhood of Sharq," she reminisced.

"I also remember the time we used to go tricking and treating in the middle of Ramadan, a tradition known as girgian. At that time, girgian consisted of nuts, sugarcoated chickpeas and mints that people brought from neighboring countries and India. They were valuable to us and rare, so we used to have just a little and save the rest for Eid Al-Fitr," Qattan added.

Spending more time with family, friends

The distinctive habits of people in Ramadan are not limited to eating and drinking. Khaled Al-Ali said he usually prefers to stay at home most of the time, and only attend social gatherings and pray in mosques.

On the other hand, Dana Al-Gharabally, an employee at the ministry of information, calls Ramadan the 'golden month'. "My mother used to take me and my sisters to buy gold during the holy month in preparation for Eid. Gold was a lot cheaper those days," she recalled.

In contrast, Abu Walid, a senior Kuwaiti citizen, bemoaned not being able to fast. Although he hasn't forgotten the childhood memories associated with this month, the thing he longs for most is fasting itself.

"After I was diagnosed with diabetes, I've missed sharing the joy of breaking the fast after long hours of fasting with my family. Doctor's recommendation!" he said. "More than 25 years after my father's demise, I still repeat what he always said when he broke his first fast with a sip of dried apricot juice: 'This month is finished - 29 days left.' My family laughs at this anecdote as if they heard it for the first time!"

Story and photos by Athoob Al-Shuaibi