When we were preparing to come to the United Arab Emirates to live, I had a lot of hesitations…naturally. However, one of the major concerns I had, silly as it is, was about the holidays! Granted, I was moving to another country and I was fully aware that I needed to embrace it, but at the same time, I wanted to keep traditions and celebrations from our own country for my kids. Was the UAE going to provide me with opportunities to celebrate, or would I rely heavily on shipping things over at an amazingly high postage rate?
I’m so happy to say, after seven months here, that the UAE provided plenty of opportunity to celebrate! We have been so lucky and grateful to find parties, supplies, and recognition for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day thus far. I never expected to see so much effort on the part of the community and stores, to recognize and provide for the expat communities.
Halloween kinda came and went for us. While it was celebrated, we were living in a hotel. I didn’t get to decorate the house nor bake all the treats, like spider bread or alien ears or witch’s fingers. However, the stores had costumes, decorations, and candy…all ready for any expat who wanted to celebrate Halloween. There were even some events at hotels…costume contests, parties, etc. We chose to do a trunk-or-treat at an apartment complex with other teachers, while others did the door-to-door trick or treating within the complex. I think everyone found a way to enjoy the holiday and see the little kids faces light up in their adorable costumes.
In November, stores offered turkeys! Lots and lots of turkeys! Most were flown in for the expat community and a “small” fee, but hey, there was turkey! And most of the Asian/South Pacific community wishes us a Happy Thanksgiving while we were out and about getting our last minute preparations together. You may not have your family here to celebrate with and break bread with, but we made our own family and still had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. You become quite close to the friends you make as an expat, and they become your “special occasion” family too.
Come December, Christmas was in full swing in many, many places! The grocery stores had plenty of Christmas candy, wrapping paper, bow, Christmas trees and decorations! The malls had massive Christmas trees erected, and some even had Santa there for the kids! My sister sent us a large box of Christmas supplies for my house as well…touches from home, that no matter where you look, you won’t find…and you’re so happy to see that box from home arrive. For our house, we had a skimpy 6ft. Charlie Brown tree, some decorations from my sister, and the classic Christmas movies playing all month long.
We chose to go to the WAFI Mall in Dubai for our Santa visit. It was magical for us and the kids. The tree was beautiful and seemed to touch the glass pyramid roof. Around the tree were all of Santa’s toys being made for little girls and boys. Inside Santa’s house was just charming, and he spent a lot of time with each family. My kids were so thrilled, and I got a tear in my eye. I was warmed by the thought that my kids did not have to miss out on something so special to them, just because they were here. Many hotels had parties, including the Intercontinental’s Decorate a Gingerbread House party for kids, a visit with Santa, and gifts. Again, the community tries very hard to include those who celebrate, and they look out for the kids…keeping the magic alive.
In February, there were hearts! I walked into Carrefour, and to my surprise, there was a big stand that had cheesy stuffed hearts, blankets, fake roses, glitter hearts, etc. Now, not the typical stuff you’d expect to see at home, as I think many things at home are cute! Here, add a lot of bling and glitter, and that’s what you get on your stuffed animals, roses and gifts. However, it was nice to see. But red hots and cinnamon hearts had to come from home! Jared’s mother sent a box of decorations so that the kids could make cupcakes and cookies for Valentine’s Day. This was a hit, as I love holidays, and I love baking!
The most recent holiday we were able to celebrate here was St. Patrick’s Day. I think everyone found something to do! In Dubai, there’s Irish Village. All year round, they have many things to do there, but you can imagine how wild and crazy it gets on St. Patrick’s Day! In Abu Dhabi, there’s PJ’s, which is another Irish Pub. And in Al Ain, we had a rooftop party. Of course I baked, yet again! This time, rainbow cupcakes in place of our traditional rainbow pancakes, and the kids were just as excited. There was an Irish concert put on by the Youth Orchestra of Ireland as well that weekend. However, the stores did not provide any decorations for St. Patrick’s Day, nor did I see any cute hair bows for the girls. So, I made a three-leaf clover in Eden’s hair instead.
Our next holiday approaching is Easter, and so far, we have received a great box of goodies from home including Reece’s peanut butter eggs! The stores are starting to put out their candy, and at $7 and up a bag, I don’t see much of it leaving the shelves! We are waiting to see if they will have Easter baskets, grass and plastic eggs. I’m sure a hotel or two will provide a bunny and an egg hunt for the children as well.
All in all, I have been very pleased that we are able to celebrate our own traditions with a twist here in the UAE while we take on and learn about new traditions. No matter where you are or who you’re with, your holidays are what you make of them.