Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Christmas in the UAE
Yes indeed there is a Christmas in the UAE…but it’s this rather bizarre combination of things that are familiar and other things that are different…for example:

Lights: There are (literally) tons and tons and tons of lights all over the place here. They are strung from the palm trees down the medians of the roads. They are strung from the high-rise buildings. They are strung from overpasses. There must be an unwritten rule that the more ‘active’ the lights are, the better. There is every imaginable combination of flashing, blinking, strobe etc. There are huge strands of lights that hang down from our building and go across our bedroom window and even with the blinds closed the lights still shine through the slats in the blinds.

So while all the lights do remind us of Christmas the interesting thing is that the lights have nothing to do with Christmas at all. The lights are up because of National Day, which was a few weeks ago, and they apparently keep them up until just after the new year. And what’s even more confusing about the non-Christmas lights is that many of them are in red and green because those two colours are the prominent colours in the national flag.

I’m really getting into the lights though. We bought a strand for our Christmas tree, and they’re so neat…..it’s a double strand, all different colours and there’s a little switch you can press that makes them flash and blink in all sorts of patterns…but (and somehow this doesn’t surprise me) they never really stick to the same pattern and without even pressing the button again they’ll suddenly start changing colours and doing different rhythmic pattern on their own….it’s so cool ! However, around the house now you can often hear Bob and the kids saying “ would you stop with the lights!” because I keep saying, “Oh, look…look what they’re doing now!”

Christmas trees: Yes, we bought one…an artificial one. You might think “Well of course it’s artificial, after all the whole country is a desert”. But no, (and somehow this doesn’t surprise me either) you can buy live Christmas trees here…I don’t know where they come from, or what century they were cut down in, but they don’t have the “Christmas tree” smell, so I figure what’s the point.

Santa Claus: There is a Santa in each of the big malls and you can take kids to have their picture taken…just like at home…well, maybe with a bit of a twist. Santa is in a grotto…yes, a grotto…even the ads say “Come visit Santa in his grotto”. What the heck’s a grotto and what does it have to do with Santa? I guess a grotto is a cave, and indeed Santa does sit in a cave-like structure in the malls here…but why? It’s what we call a “UAE moment” and we’ve found the correct response is to say “hmmm, that’s rather odd” and then move on…
Speaking of UAE moments, I went out to do some last minute Christmas shopping last night and there on a busy corner was a guy dressed as a Santa with a boom box pumping out the Christmas tunes. That’s normal enough, and if he’d had an elf with him that would have been o.k. too, but instead of an elf he had a guy who looked like he just came in out of the desert, and he had this huge, lovely camel and was giving rides to kids. Oddly enough it did look and feel Christmassy in a biblical sort of way….sort of a “Santa meets the 3 Wise Men” theme. Up and down the sidewalk they’d go…and it was so busy around there with shoppers and cars zipping by….and here he was calmly walking this camel up and down and all the kids were having a wonderful time… and the rides were free too!

The fixin’s: We have bought a turkey and it is thawing as I write this. It is a butterball, supposedly --- I say ‘supposedly’ because there are so many ‘knock offs’ of merchandise and food that it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t ---then again, I don’t even want to think of what they’d put into a ‘knock off butterball’.
Several times recently when people here have asked me about Christmas dinner plans I replied that we were have the traditional dinner, turkey and the usual fixin’s. Then they’d ask “ from where”? That set me back a bit. How do you answer a question like that? To say “the supermarket” sounds a bit obvious. Then I found out that people here commonly order their turkey dinners as ‘take away’ from the hotels. (you know you’re becoming a local when you stop saying ‘take out’) The hotels make the whole thing for you…they’ll roast your turkey, and deliver your turkey and all the fixin’s. Now there’s an idea, maybe next year Christmas dinner will come from the Meridien, or maybe the Crown Plaza…after all, I’ll be too busy playing with lights, visiting Santa in his grotto and going for a camel ride.

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