DUBAI: As the UAE gets ready for Christmas, it’s not just the Christian expats who are counting down to the celebrations. Many Emiratis will also be ringing in the festivities. Their homes have been adorned with lights and the Christmas trees are up, with piles of presents, wrapped in red and green, underneath them, waiting to be opened.
Ahmed Emad, 24, a full-time artist, says he is from a family that loves celebrations of any kind. He describes the Christmas festivities in his house as traditional, “My family and friends meet a few weeks before Christmas to decorate the tree. On December 25, we have a gathering at our house where my mother cooks a big feast for everyone; last year, she made seafood. Then we have a ‘Home Alone’ marathon and play board games. We also always do secret Santa (where people exchange Christmas presents anonymously). I got my aunt’s name and bought her a small gift to keep under the tree.”
884,463Christian expats in the UAE as of 2019. There are also 40 churches
Emad said Christmas is a purely cultural occasion for the family to get together. “We are a completely Muslim family, and the people we invite are also all Muslims. To us, it’s just about sharing and participating in everyone’s happiness.”
He is thankful that he comes from a country that is very tolerant of different religions and celebrations.
“We live in such a healthy society where everyone can enjoy themselves openly and comfortably. I’ve never seen anyone judging us. Everyone understands that it is just the holiday spirit.”
For Madia Alfarhan, 19, an International Relations student, Christmas is about sharing a celebration with her sisters. Their home holds a decorative tree with many gifts that they usually get through Secret Santa. “We spend Christmas day cooking and baking together, then we have dinner and exchange gifts,” Alfarhan said.
“Eid and Ramadan are very important celebrations for us as they include all our extended families and relatives. Christmas, on the other hand, has become a more intimate tradition for me and my sisters and we enjoy the festive vibes that come with it,” she added.
With many residents in the UAE finding it surprising that Emiratis too celebrate Christmas, Alfarhan said, “People should broaden their views about Emiratis. They should try and make an effort to reach out to us and form opinions based on interactions with the many different Emiratis.”
Sense of inclusion
Elsewhere in Hassan Alasmawi’s home, Christmas is celebrated with large groups of friends and family gathering at a house where a Christmas tree is set up in the backyard. The 24-year-old digital marketing executive said, “A member of the family will be dressed as Santa and distribute presents. It’s great fun for the kids. Then we will have a Christmas dinner together. What I enjoy the most is spending time with all my loved ones.”
He emphasised the importance of people from all nationalities coming together during the holidays. “The UAE always creates a sense of inclusion with the many nationalities we have here. There are Christmas trees in malls and there are many concerts and festivals for Holi. Just as other people participate in our Eid celebrations, we should also take part in their festivities.”
Alasmawi hoped that the shared holiday spirit would dispel any misconceptions people may have about people from other nationalities. “It is important for people to understand that we express ourselves differently. We have our traditions, culture and heritage that we love and respect; but we also have our individual identities.”
Maitha Al Jenaidi, 23, graduate of Zayed University, loves participating and planning social events. Christmas in her household, with 20 guests and many children, is a fun-filled event with games and lively music.
“We have a pot-luck dinner, exchange gifts and stories and we usually stay up until 2am together. It is a positive and familial vibe that we all love,” Maitha said.
“I am a Muslim and the people I celebrate with are all Muslims. Many non-Muslims celebrate Eid and they participate in Ramadan. We can get involved in Christmas too because we don’t view it as a religious festival, but a beautiful festivity that has a great cultural holiday spirit. It gives us a chance to be with our family and Emiratis in general have strong family ties, So the more occasions we have together, the happier we are,” Maitha added.
DID YOU KNOW?
As of 2019, there are 884,463 Christian expats and 40 churches in the UAE.