My earliest and most enduring winter memory, oddly enough, is from the pages of a hardcover picked from my mum’s choice collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Remember those yesteryear gems?
Oh yes, O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi left an indelible impression on my young mind. In the short story, the cash-strapped protagonist couple Della and Jim redeem their love after a shock discovery on the eve of a cold Christmas. Della sells her long hair, her only treasure, to buy Jim a chain for his watch, only to find that he has sold the watch, his only treasure, to buy her an ornamental comb. Ironical as the situation is, their pure, sacrificial love for each other wins the day.
After all these years, the story still tugs at my heart. Just as a little girl, Clara, did last week. The visually impaired 11 year old was specially flown in from another country by the UAE to experience its beauty as part of The World’s Coolest Winter campaign. In a short video titled A Winter Through My Eyes, she talks of how the UAE is the first country she has ever travelled to and in just a week, she has enjoyed an entire lifetime. More important, she says you don’t need to look with your eyes to feel something. Looking with your heart enables you to see so much more.
Winter, to me, is full of such heartwarming stories. Whether it’s a group of friends singing around a bonfire in the Al Qudra Desert, a family hiking in the Al Rabi Mountain Trail or a couple for whom time stands still at Jebel Jais – all among the world’s coolest attractions in the UAE - it’s the human element that is at the core of the experience, the spectacular props notwithstanding.
Indeed, between November and March when all the UAE’s a winter stage and the curtains go up, the play of human emotions is at its sublime best.
Every year, millions of tourists fly into the UAE to soak in all that it offers – from its rich, natural spread of deserts, mountains and beaches to its record-breaking recreational attractions. Based on official figures, Dubai International, which remains the world’s busiest airport, received over 3.88 million passengers in November alone last year, a number that would have surely soared higher during December and January, even as UAE was ranked the world’s most resilient country during the pandemic. Significantly, domestic tourism also peaked, accounting for over 30 per cent of the total hotel guests. Needless to say, each one of these millions would have his or her own winter tales to tell.
You don’t have to be at a touristy destination to experience the beauty of winter. It gets accentuated within the comforts of our hearth and home as well. You can feel it when someone checks on you in the middle of the night and pulls up a dislodged blanket; hands you a bowl of hot soup you were craving for, without you even asking for it; or you just curl up by a crackling fireplace to do what you love best.
Take my own case last weekend. I sat in the balcony of my apartment in Dubai, looking into the shimmering blue morning sky and all that sprang to life under it. The air was crisp and clear and the sun shone softly, making me want to stay on. As I savoured it all with my hot ginger tea, I received a video call from my son who was walking his pet in another timezone, another country, thousands of miles away. It was the four-month-old pup’s first trip out in the snow, and my son didn’t want me to miss out on the excitement.
As I watched them, the feeling was indescribable, uncontainable. They, in the splendour of their sub-zero winter and I, in my coolest climes here in the UAE - the distance between us in no way discounting the priceless moments.