This will be the 4th Christmas we’ve spent in Dubai. When we first moved over I missed home too much to stay here and so for the first couple of years we headed back to the UK. Whilst we absolutely loved going home and seeing all our wonderful friends and family it got to be quite hard work, especially with all the travelling. The Husbands’ family live in Scotland, my Mum and lots of friends are in the Midlands and up until a year ago one of my absolute BFF’s lived in Brighton. Yes, the other end of the country to Scotland! So we spent much of our time travelling up and down the country and spending every night in a different bed. When we flew back to Dubai on New Years Day we were both absolutely shattered.
We decided enough was enough and we were going to stay put after that. At first I found it incredibly weird, I mean, Christmas is all about the cold and the snow and being cosy, right? Well, not for everyone. The great thing about living in Dubai is the wide range of nationalities you get to mix with. Our Australian friend told us that Christmas for them is about BBQ’s on the beach and our South African trainer said much the same. South African’s often have a ‘braai’ or BBQ for their Christmas lunch. Our lovely Scandinavian friends have their big Christmas dinner on the 24th rather than 25th as we do in the UK , the 25th is more of a big lunch with friends day for them. However, as Brits are the biggest expat nationality group here after the Indians and Filipinos the traditional British/American way of celebrating the festive season seems to be the one that dominates. Turkeys are big business, as are the usual Christmas veggies and puddings and in the pork section of the supermarkets, pigs in blankets.
As the years have gone on I find there’s an increasing amount of Christmas paraphernalia around and it’s a big deal now. I’m sure long term expats have noticed even more of a difference in the way Christmas is celebrated here. My first year in Dubai there were trees and decorations but they weren’t as prevalent as they are now. In recent years all the big hotels have very prominent and beautiful Christmas displays. You can see the Jumeriah Zabeel Saray’s opulent decorations above. This year we seem to have gone a bit Christmas mad with decorations appearing in early November which is very unusual. I’ve always liked the fact in the past that the UAE doesn’t over do the Christmas build up, I absolutely love it but I don’t want to be sick of it before the day is even here. Last year my mum sent me a pic of some Christmas cards in her local garden centre in the UK in August. Far, far too early! I do however, miss the Christmas adverts from the UK, luckily everything is on Youtube now so we still get to see them but it’s not quite the same as having them on the TV.
A big difference with Christmas in Dubai is the fact that 25th December is a normal working day. Some offices will give staff the day off but others make them take it as holiday which is only fair as this is an Islamic country and we get Islamic holidays off work, not Christian ones. All the shops are open as normal, services are available at normal hours, everything is, well, normal! One year my Danish friends spent the 25th chilling out at a spa. Also all the Christmas music you hear is strictly non religious, which is fine, you just don’t notice how much of the Christmas music is religious until you realise you’re listening to a constant loop of Wham, Mariah Carey and The Pogues as there’s little else for them to play.
A great Dubai Christmas tradition is having your Christmas dinner delivered. It’s so much easier if there are a big group of you, which inevitably there is as those who haven’t gone back to their home countries all get together for the big day. A lot of the big hotels here and some restaurants offer a Christmas dinner package and will deliver it, cooked and hot to your door. Some, such as The Ivy Dubai will even part cook it and leave it to you to finish off. Handy if you want to pretend you’ve been slaving away for hours. Those who don’t cook or order in tend to head to a Festive Brunch, similar to the weekly Friday brunches but with more Turkey.
We’ve actually cooked ourselves for the last couple of years which I’ve loved but it’s time for a break this year so we’re off to our best friends for their turn on the cooking. With no big feast to prepare I’m looking forward to a chilled out Christmas morning, maybe with breakfast outside and a swim before lunch. You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when you’re sunbathing on Christmas Day! And now I’m off to stockpile those pigs in blankets before there’s a run on them, scenes can get ugly in Waitrose if they run out.