I never dreamed that I would be able to achieve my idea of a perfect Christmas whilst living in Dubai but it is shaping up nicely to be just that. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the rest of the hideous panic buying that makes the countdown to December 25 a nightmare in the UK, is not happening here. It probably is at some level but that is my point, really. You don’t have to take part in all that if, like me, you hanker after a calmer lead up to Christmas.
In a country where Christmas is not a compulsory part of the cultural and religious landscape the preparations are proportionate. Everything required for a jingle bells and whistles celebration is available here, from real trees, to carol concerts – it’s just not in your face, 24 hours a day, for weeks in advance.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas but I don’t like what it has become in the UK. First off, it seems to start shortly after the summer holiday season when the ‘shaping up and slimming down to sparkle’ articles start appearing in the magazines and the decorations line the aisles in the supermarkets.
Soon after that there are endless debates on whether the high street and online retailers can expect a ‘bumper’ Christmas, how much money will be made or not and the commercial wisdom of bringing the January sales forward to December whilst everyone is in spending mode. There is invariably an item that will famously not be available in the UK in time for Christmas morning and tales of disappointment or triumph associated with said item. Thanks to BBC Radio 4 I hear it all – from afar.
I have recently been introduced to a delightful pre-Christmas tradition by a Canadian friend. Basically, a group of of people each bake examples of a sweet ‘favourite’ festive item, in sufficient amounts to give to each of the participants, plus the recipe. The ‘Christmas exchange’ took place at the home of our our Canadian hostess where the theme had been executed to perfection and a beautifully decorated tree and a delicious lunch was waiting for us. We were Palestinian, Australian, American, Canadian and me from the UK. I struggle to find time to enjoy a festive event as relaxed as this when I’m home and it got me thinking about some of the things that get me in a pre-Christmas tizz. So, in no particular order, here’s my list.
Six festive preparations in the UK I will happily forgo this year:
1.The way Christmas TV adverts by large commercial organisations are delivered and received as short films, worthy of serious discussion by intelligent people. They are trying to sell us stuff. Nothing more.
2. The sinking feeling that comes with placing an order on Amazon and getting a delivery date that indicates the purchase may not arrive till January.
3. Queuing in the cold and dark to use the hole in the wall cash machine.
4. Clearing and defrosting the freezer in time to refill with enough food to feed the population of a small country.
5. Worrying about all the presents I haven’t yet bought, whether the turkey I have ordered is too big/ too small/ and whether train strikes or weather will disrupt our boys’ journey from London to Harrogate.
6. High street shopping when Wizard, Slade, Wham and Micheal Buble’s Christmas songs are the soundtrack to every purchase.
In a city where shopping and spending is practically a national sport and glitter and sparkle are year-round necessities, Christmas is cut down to size in Dubai. This week it is certainly outshone by National Day celebrations. On December 2 the UAE celebrates forty four years of unity. A street parade with carnival atmosphere kicked this off last weekend.
The musical procession went past our apartment and given the dreadful events in Paris it was heart-warming to see so many nationalities and cultures represented in the floats that made their way along Mohammad Bin Rashid Boulevard. A lot of flag waving and pride? Yes but the message on one banner was the one I took away with me.
It simply read, “We All Smile in the Same Language”. A great motto for a Christmas cracker!