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The skylarks sing as they swoop and swerve in the pre-dawn sky around date palm trees.
The fruit has long been a part of the land that now forms the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where for centuries Bedouin nomads were fueled by its calories as they traveled back and forth across the Arabian Peninsula.
A millennium and some centuries ago, the Prophet Muhammad exhorted Muslims in the month of Ramadan to “Break your fast with a date, for it is purifying.” Since the unification of the kingdom in 1932, however, Saudi Arabia has derived the overwhelming majority of its wealth from a very different set of natural resources.
The celebration is an opportunity to learn the Saudi Arabian heritage, customs and traditions.
The aim of the celebrations is to introduce the heritage of Saudi Arabia, appreciate the beauty of the country, and promote pride in their country and its rich history.
More than 200 miles away from the clamor of Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, my friend Yunus and I hit the main road and race the rising sun toward the carts and bids and boxes and auctions of the Unaizah Date Festival, the second-largest date extravaganza in the entire world.
Most storylines about Saudi Arabia center around the kingdom’s deep social conservatism, vast oil wealth, or geopolitical machinations in the greater Middle East.
Just to the north lies the regional capital of Buraidah, archrival city to Unaizah and host of world’s The market that hosts the Unaizah festival is enormous: a giant plaza as wide as a football field and twice as long.Things get moving early, before the desert sun turns the concrete surface into a hot plate.“We’ll stop by at midnight, to check that all of the dates are fine,” explains Ali Muhammad al-Khuwaiter, a date merchant from Unaizah reselling a few surplus date boxes from the wholesale lots under the market’s titanic sunshades.Plummeting oil prices over the past three years have sent the economy into a tailspin.Economic headwinds have, in turn, spurred on a high-profile effort to reconfigure the Saudi economy around a more diversified export base and an innovative private sector; this project is known as Saudi Vision 2030.