While the essence of Christmas remains the same, spending the festive season in a city that swelters in 28-degree heat doesn’t quite have the same vibe as back home in cold, wintry UK. Having lived in Abu Dhabi for 7 years, I have had my fair share of Christmases and despite being Islamic, the Emirate does a pretty good job at decking the halls and capturing the seasonal essence we all crave.
In Abu Dhabi, you know Christmas is coming when the Starbucks red cups materialize, Christmas trees shoot up in shopping malls and strands of blinking LED lights are creatively dangled outside all the grand hotels. Abu Dhabi has clearly set a commendable example of tolerance and acceptance of all religions.
Being situated in a Muslim country (UAE), one might think that celebrating Christmas is a big no no, but this cannot be further from the truth. I have seen and experienced firsthand all kinds of festivities in the city, from lighting up beautifully decorated 40 feet Christmas trees to attending massive brunches that are so big that you are given a map to navigate all the cooking stations.
The UAE also add fairy lights to the palm trees and allow Michael Bublé’s Christmas bangers to play nationwide, purely because it respects the beliefs of its residents and appreciates the diversity of its expat community. Giving gifts and spending time with loved ones are of course, not inherently in contradiction with Muslim beliefs, but Islam has its own unique practices and holy days performed on other occasions.
So now let me tell you why Abu Dhabi is so great at celebrating Christmas:
A Christmas market in the desert captures the same spirit as most UK markets, however it’s likely you’re located in an air conditioned shopping mall. Visiting one of the malls for some last minute Christmas shopping, a ‘Winter Village’ was set up. It had an array of enjoyable events for the public such as Santa’s grotto, an arts and crafts workshop and numerous stalls displaying sparkling baubles and wooden camels with cotton wool attached to their chins (corny I know). It’s not exactly in the league of Birmingham’s German market, but the Emirate certainly gives its best shot!
Brunch is a way of life in Abu Dhabi, and this does not cease at Christmas. Brunches usually take place in the 5 star hotels, which offer a veritable feast of festive delights – turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, minced pies and intricately designed gingerbread houses. Christmas is all about spending time with the family and there’s no better way to do that than with an extravagant feast.
Most of living in the Middle East have accepted we’re never going to have a snowy white Christmas, but white sand counts too, right? spending the holiday on a beautiful stretch of sand is a fantastic way to make up for the lack of snow and I know Santa would happily trade his red velvet suit for a pair of board shorts any day.
Abu Dhabi has a fantastic nightlife, Skylite is one of the best bars to visit at Christmas because you feel like you’re inside a Christmas tree bauble and the purple lights that frame the ceiling are unbelievably stunning. On normal nights, drinks cost £17 each but on ladies night they’re completely free! So, spending an evening out here during the holidays is pretty special.
While I may not have spent my Christmas holidays in lovely crisp cold England watching the classics like ‘Love Actually‘ under my duvet with a mug of hot chocolate beside me, Abu Dhabi certainly made the festive period memorable. I recommend you save up and buy yourself a plane ticket to see for yourself what the city has to offer for yourself!