It was a Saudi wedding like any other — clutching a decorative sword, the groom bobbed and swayed in a traditional dance. But there was one striking difference — a tiny guest list. Weddings in the oil-rich kingdom are typically lavish affairs, with a bulging guest list which is seen both as a social obligation and a symbol of affluence. Such expectations are often a source of economic strain for grooms, who foot most of the bill which includes renting out exorbitantly-priced marriage halls where nuptial celebrations are usually held. But millennials like Basil Albani are increasingly hosting weddings at home, defying family traditions and social pressure and making huge savings instead. Fewer than two dozen close relatives and friends were invited to the 26-year-old insurance executive’s recent wedding feast comprising kabsa — a traditional rice and meat dish — at his ancestral home in western Jeddah city. It was a microscopic figure by Saudi standards. “People go all crazy with weddings, inviting hundreds of guests and spending millions in one night to get the best singers, best bands, best thobes,” said Maan Albani, the 21-year-old brother of the groom, dressed in a gold-trimmed cloak. “We wanted to do something different with a smaller celebration at home, which can also be fun.” Arab world’s biggest market Although prevalent for years, home weddings symbolise a war on excess by the country’s youth as much as they are a barometer of the lagging economy. They appear to be gaining popularity in the petro-state in a new age of austerity amid low crude prices. Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest concentrations of super rich households. But with cuts to cradle-to-grave subsidies and a new value-added tax amid soaring youth unemployment, Saudi households are seeing stagnating disposable incomes and what experts call a lifestyle downgrade. The change in fortunes in the once tax-free kingdom facing a youth bulge is a stress point that poses a challenge for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader. And there are signs of an impact on the Saudi wedding market. Annual spending on marriages in the kingdom exceeds two billion riyals ($533 million, 466 million euros), the highest in the Arab world, organisers of the Saudi international wedding fair said last year. Published in Daily Times, January 14th 2019.