For Chiara Saadi, Christmas is all about sentimentality — a festive nostalgia that has mostly become her inspiration in decorating her 5,500-square-foot villa in Dubai's Arabian Ranches.
Saadi, who is Italian but grew up in the Middle East, has a British husband, Emile, with whom she has a daughter, Viviana, eight. Together, they have learnt to combine all these cultural influences when it comes to celebrating the holidays.
“Over the years we've created our own version of Christmas, incorporating Italian and British traditions. We celebrate on the 24th with a special dinner out and then Christmas Day is at home in our pyjamas,” says Saadi, an entrepreneur.
No matter how they celebrate the occasion, she says being away from extended family for most of the year has given them a "deep-rooted love" for the holiday as "it's a time for family to reunite and make memories together."
Perhaps the epitome of this is Saadi's Christmas tree, which is 274.3cm tall. She decorates it with about 250 ornaments, including several sentimental pieces that represent milestones in the family's lives. The opulent tree is also lit by 1,700 lights.
“Among all the shiny elegant ornaments, our most precious items are more than 30 years old, including my first Christmas stocking that my mother made,” Saadi says.
The tree, which stands in her living room, also features a set of silver bells that Saadi made when she was five, hanging next to her daughter's first handmade decoration. There are also ornaments from their travels.
However, the most coveted is a glass bauble with a miniature model of her husband's grandmother's house inside. She says that it “forever encompasses the feeling of love and joy we felt there, in her home”.
Unsurprisingly, given their love for the season, the Saadi family do not have only one tree. On the second floor, in Saadi's daughter's room, a smaller but quirky Christmas tree is set up, glowing in pink and decorated with ornamental sweets.
“My daughter loves it,” says Saadi, who, at the beginning of the month also hired a company to stage a Christmas cinema for other families and children in the neighbourhood.
“Children add another element to Christmas,” she says.
There is a hot chocolate station in the kitchen, too, which also houses gluten-free treats. Out in the back garden, a festive play area has been set up, next to a swimming pool filled with Christmas inflatables.
When it comes to the overall look of her Christmas decor, Saadi likes to mix things up, incorporating eclectic pieces made by local artisans and entrepreneurs in the UAE, to elevate her family's celebrations.
These pieces are scattered across her five-bedroom villa, and they include a set of wooden trees by the swimming pool and a life-size wooden sleigh and reindeer near the porch.
“I love collecting these pieces that are made with love,” she says.
“Dubai has a wonderful mix of cultures with such a great community of local, small businesses that are customising decorations and personalising Christmas for each home. They provide a personal touch that you can’t get anywhere else.”