How are things up there in the northern hemisphere? Gloomy? Would you like to drop by for a visit? No better place than Dubai to get some guaranteed light treatment and enjoy the Arabic hospitality! Remember, my friend, you are always welcome! I will try to answer your questions about how we celebrate in this culture, and do we celebrate Christmas at all. First I need to tell you some background about my country and its history.
Dubai is one of seven United Arab Emirates, and the union has just celebrated its 41st anniversary. Not long ago the peninsula consisted of poor desert colonies of fishermen, divers of pearls and various Arab tribes, each ruled by their own sheikh. The Portuguese, the Ottomans and the surrounding countries left
their impressions in the history. The region was long known to the British as the ”Pirate Coast”, due to the raiders of ships, who held their bases on the shores. The sheikhs signed a treaty with the British in 1853, where they (the Trucial Sheikhdoms) agreed to maritime peace. Since 1971 the country has been independent.
United Arab Emirates has gained immense financial growth and prosperity from oil reserves, found in the late 1960’s. Abu Dhabi is the wealthiest emirate, and holds the presidency. In the last 40 years the development has been astonishing. Sand has given way to thriving economies with Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the lead. Many international businesses have their local offices in the Emirates and good connections make it possible to reach a large area from Middle East to Africa and Asia.
Today Dubai is a glittering megacity with skyscrapers, manmade channels and islands, motorways, waterparks and exclusive hotels. Its huge air-conditioned shopping malls are tax free havens for shoppers and tourists. The city attracts people from all over the world, either as tourists or as expats who come to work and stay. Many come for the yearly shopping festival or to engage in sports which range from traditional falconry and camel riding to sailing, cricket, tennis, golf, down-hill skiing(!) or Formula1 in Abu Dhabi. To put it mildly, in Dubai the search goes for the finest, the biggest, the most impressive and the best (if you have the money).
UAE is an Islamic country, but it respects everyone’s right to practice their religion of birth, and expects visitors to respect Islamic values in turn. The local Islamic feasts are called Eids, and the greatest of them is after the fasting month, Ramadan. While celebrating the Arabs tend to keep to their own extended family circles. Dressed in festive clothes they gather together for dinners, often in tents which are put up in the desert under the starry evening skies just for this purpose.
The program might include traditional music and dancing by a fire, men chatting with their shisha pipes in a majlis ( a carpet-covered area with pillows for sitting ) and ladies in their finery sitting separately with henna-decorated hands and feet.
The presence of many different nationalities brings as many different yearly feasts, and any reason to celebrate is embraced eagerly – as far as commercialism is concerned. Whatever is celebrated – it always shows in the city, and it is marketed – be it Eid, Diwali or Christmas. Palm trees get lights twisted around their trunks, shows of fireworks shine in the dark and “Seasons greetings” are wished to everyone.
Dubai is a shopper’s paradise, and in 2010 one of the shopping malls boasted the “most expensive Christmas tree ever”, valued at 11 million dollars – its branches held a total of 181 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones.
’Shop until you drop’ applies also to Christmas in Dubai. There is a choice of special foods, mince cakes from the UK, candy and turkeys from the US, Santas giving sweets for children, real fir Christmas trees flown in from Germany and anything you can think of. One can even buy ham from the pork departments in supermarkets ( ‘for non-muslims only’ ). So the answer to your question, Pingy is: Yes! Christmas shows in Dubai – at least in your wallet and in your digestion system.
Oh, dear, this all goes over my hump, sighs Rashid. I prefer to chew dates, take some distance from the hustle and bustle and just relax with my mates. The desert is my favorite place. Did you know that one can really see the stars best from the sand dunes in the middle of nowhere? That gets close to authentic Christmas, and that’s where you will find me!
Eid Mubarak! Happy Holidays!