Sharing Holidays in the Emirates
I absolutely love living in Abu Dhabi during this time of year. The weather is perfect (daily highs around 75 degrees Fahrenheit), soccer season has started (my kid's favorite sport to play and mine to watch), and the holiday season is in full swing. After Thanksgiving and National Day, we start to prepare for Christmas. Now, many of you may be thinking..."Really? Christmas in the desert? It can't really be that Christmasy, right?"
Now, I'll admit. It doesn't feel quite the same. There is no hoping for snow or extended family to stop by. The malls aren't any more crowded than usual and there's no Target to run to for last minute gifts. But, the Emirates do a bang up job of making sure Christmas doesn't get overlooked. Every hotel has a Christmas market during the month of December. There are Santas at all the malls. The grocery stores are filled with frozen turkeys, candy canes and garland for the tree. (Most trees, of course, are fake...you can get a real one, but it's going to cost you a pretty penny - or dirham, in this case.)
Here's a photo of one of the local grocery stores "Christmas Aisles"...
(I love the camel theme, don't you?)
Yes, Abu Dhabi certainly has its fill of the "commercial" side of Christmas. But there's definitely the spiritual side as well. Many churches hold caroling events during the month, where large groups of people caravan out to the desert, drink cocoa and sing everything from "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" to "Silent Night" around camp fires. Many of my friends attend midnight mass. To Muslims, Jesus is a very important figure. In Islam, it is believed that Jesus was a prophet and will come back to Earth. There is even a mosque down the road from my apartment that is named the "Mary, Mother of Jesus" mosque. Over and over again, I am amazed at how much this country focuses on the similarities between Christianity and Islam, and not the differences.
I recently had lunch with a Muslim friend of mine who was getting ready to take her five children to see Santa. We joked about juggling that many wee ones and whether or not anyone would break out in tears this year.
Then, on a more serious note, I asked her what Christmas really meant to her and her family. Her answer?
"As a Muslim, I don't celebrate Christmas. But I celebrate the fact that in this country, we are all allowed not only to participate, but actually encouraged, to be a part of each other's holidays. My family enjoys them and I hope that with each exposure, they learn something new about the world."
Well, there you have it. I couldn't have said it better myself...