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Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Christmas in the desert:

Expat Anna has lived in Dubai with her husband and children for nine years and this will be the fifth Christmas she has spent there.
By Anna Parkes
Date: December 21 2013
Editor Rating:

Even though the UAE is a Muslim country and they don’t observe Christmas Day, Dubai is a city that welcomes people from all over the world. 

My husband is a pilot and is on duty throughout the festive season and we have decided to stay here.  There are no public holidays other than New Year’s Day, so most people work as usual. Our three children are now all at school and return on January 5 after a three-week break. 

There are Christmas decorations in public areas - some very beautiful, others not, generally oversized and larger than life - as well as carols playing in the shopping centres favoured by westerners.

If you think 'White Christmas' is incongruous in Australia at Christmas time, it is even more so in Dubai but it's not a problem, as they 'make' snow. The Dubai Christmas Festival earlier this month involved an ice rink, a snowball-throwing zone and 'regular', falling snow.

It is officially winter but that means pleasant, mild temperatures in the early to mid 20s with mostly sunny days. It's a lovely time of the year here. The Europeans, especially the Russians and those from Scandinavian countries, think it’s delightful and hot; we think it’s a bit like Spring or Autumn. 

It is also a very popular time for people to travel to Dubai for a holiday. Consequently, not only do the shops cater for Christian visitors from around the world but the numerous five star hotels do also in a very elaborate and impressive way. The hotels cater for all food tastes, have real feasts, entertainment, and genuinely make it feel like a very special festive day.

We are going to one such hotel for what is known as ‘Christmas Brunch’. This starts at midday and goes for the entire afternoon, so it is very much like the traditional Christmas Dinner in Australia. This is a very popular tradition in Dubai, along with an equally elaborate Christmas Eve celebration that tends to be favoured by people who do not have children, or who have older children.

The hotel where we’re going is beautiful in a city of many beautiful hotels. The particular restaurant has French-style food and a French chef. We will enjoy a glass of champagne (but not my husband, as he is flying), live cooking stations, turkey with traditional trimmings, lobster, oysters, port spit roast and a wonderful dessert buffet! Santa Claus makes an appearance and gives the children a gift. The kids (who are 13, 11 and 8). The service will be exemplary, the food will be magnificent and plentiful and I know we can just sit back and relax.

I have learned as an expat not to try to transplant your Australian life into Dubai.

It is a different country, different culture, different rituals, different holidays, different people, different way of doing things.

Therefore, I appreciate our Dubai Christmas and being spoiled in 5-star luxury surrounded by beautiful things, for what it is: a Dubai Christmas.

But when we're home, I would no more go to a 5-star hotel on Christmas Day in Melbourne than I would fly to the moon, just as it would be almost impossible to have a backyard seafood BBQ or multiple roasts with all the trimmings here. Plus there's no flies, cicadas, Boxing Day Test or Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race!

Next year, we hope to go further afield - subject to airline scheduling - but not home. One of the benefits of living overseas, especially in a location like Dubai, is that the world is almost literally your oyster. Paris is six hours away; London, seven hours; Turkey, four hours. 

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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