From Eid to National Day: What are the UAE's public holidays?

The Emirates observes a number of festivals over the course of the year which celebrate faith, customs and the country's rich history

Eid Prayers held in Dubai in April. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Public holidays and religious festivals observed in the UAE offer welcome respite from the bustling nature of daily life and serve as an important opportunity to connect with Emirati culture and tradition.

All corners of the country's diverse society come together to celebrate key events throughout the year, including Ramadan and the two Eid festivals.

Joyous National Day celebrations – held at the start of December – also allow citizens and expatriates alike to commemorate the birth of the UAE and look to its bright future.

The UAE Cabinet grants equal leave to public and private sector workers to commemorate these cherished occasions.

While in other parts of the world, you may be able to etch holiday dates in the calendar months in advance, that is not always the case in the Emirates.

The start of religious holidays such as Ramadan, Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar.

Moon-sighting committees will gather in the UAE – and other parts of the region – to spot the crescent moon, which heralds the start of a new month.

However, other holidays are much easier to plan for.

Here, The National offers a comprehensive guide to every public holiday in the UAE.

New Year's Day

January 1 is known across the globe as New Year's Day. It's a time to ring in the changes, look to the future, and enjoy one more day of holiday after the Christmas break.

It is not the only New Year marked in the Emirates, but more on that later.

The UAE hosts spectacular New Year's Eve celebrations each year, and also provides a welcome recovery day for public and private sector workers.


Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic – or Hijri – calendar because it is believed to be the month in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day of the month, which is typically 29 or 30 days depending on the moon phase.

As well as abstaining from food and drink, Ramadan is also a time when Muslims strengthen their faith through prayer and increased recitation of the Quran.

The Moon-sighting committee meets to sight the crescent moo to mark the start of the month.

This process is repeated again to mark the end of the holy month and the first day of Shawwal, the 10th month.

For those not of the Muslim faith, Ramadan is also a special time. Daily life tends to slow down, streets and neighbourhoods are adorned in Ramadan decorations and iftars – the meal to break the fast – are lavish celebrations held at restaurants.

People are expected to dress more modestly during the month. Overt public displays of affection are generally frowned upon across most of the UAE throughout the year but especially during Ramadan. This can be an offence.

Employees typically work for shorter periods throughout the holy month.

This year's Ramadan began on March 23. The holy month is expected to begin on March 12 next year.

Eid Al Fitr

UAE worshippers attend morning prayers on first day of Eid

UAE worshippers attend morning prayers on first day of Eid

Eid Al Fitr marks the end of the month-long Ramadan fast and the start of the lunar calendar month of Shawwal.

Muslims gather for Eid prayers on the first morning of the festival. This is a time-honoured tradition also upheld by the UAE's leaders, who join worshippers at mosques.

It is a celebratory occasion involving family get-togethers, the giving of gifts as well as charitable donations.

Many people also take advantage of the extended break from work to travel abroad or take short trips in the region.

This year, Eid Al Fitr began on April 21. Workers were granted a four-day break.

Arafat Day

Arafat Day falls on the ninth day of Dhu Al Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar.

It takes place during the annual Hajj pilgrimage and is the day on which worshippers make their way to Mount Arafat.

It is said to be at this site that the Prophet Mohammed gave one of his final sermons.

Arafat Day is immediately followed by Eid Al Adha and is part of the public holiday leave granted by the government for this period.

Eid Al Adha

Eid Al Adha – which means the “festival of the sacrifice” – begins on the tenth day of Dhu Al Hijjah.

Muslims gather to perform prayers on the first morning of a festival with family and generosity to others at its heart.

The sacrifice the holiday commemorates is explained in the Quran, which tells of how the Prophet Ibrahim was asked by God in a dream to sacrifice his son, Ismail, as a test of his faith.

It is customary for a family to have a goat or sheep butchered at an abattoir and to share the meat between themselves, their relatives and the underprivileged.

This year, a four-day holiday was granted to workers – incorporating Arafat Day – from June 27 to 30.

Hijri New Year

Hijri New Year heralds the start of the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram.

The day it is marked is determined by the phases of the Moon. This year, it was held on July 19, with a public holiday held two days later.

It honours the arrival of the Prophet Mohammed in Madinah after moving from Makkah.

It was from this definitive moment that Muslims formed a state based on Islamic teachings, and Islam began to flourish and spread as a major religion.

In contrast to Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha, there are no religious observances prescribed for Al Hijra and it is generally regarded as a day of reflection rather than celebration.

Prophet Mohammed's birthday

The holiday is typically a time for quiet reflection rather than celebration, with festivities scaled back.

The UAE Cabinet previously confirmed this year's public holiday for the occasion would be observed on September 29.

Last year, President Sheikh Mohamed paid homage to an “inspirational legacy of kindness” on Prophet Mohammed's birthday.

The UAE leader said the Prophet's “timeless values” continue to be a guiding light for society.

Expo City Dubai held special free events in 2022 that were open to the public, which featured Al Malid performances.

Al Malid is the art of religious singing and is considered one of the most prominent local, traditional art forms, embodying the culture and values of the UAE and rooted in Arab and Islamic heritage.

Commemoration Day

Commemoration Day, also known as Martyrs Day, pays homage to Emirati soldiers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

It is typically marked with a minute's silence in honour of those who died in service.

Last year, Commemoration Day was observed on November 30, with a public holiday on December 1.

The late President Sheikh Khalifa introduced Commemoration Day in 2015.

It originally took place on November 30 to commemorate the death of Salem Khamis, who died on the same date in 1971 fighting against Iranian forces on the island of Greater Tunb. He is thought to have been the first Emirati to be killed in military service since the formation of the UAE that year.

National Day

The UAE united each December to celebrate the rise of a nation that is called home by more than 200 nationalities.

A spectacular live show is typically the centrepiece of colourful festivities held in all seven emirates.

Citizens often display their patriotic pride by flying the UAE Flag from their cars, which are also emblazoned with the nation's colours and decorated with images of Emirati leaders.

In 2022, a stunning 51st National Day show staged at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre celebrated the best of the nation and showcased its grand ambitions for the next 50 years.

An extravaganza of dancers, live music and performances – as well as the arrival of an Etihad Rail passenger train – delivered a taste of Emirati heritage and a snapshot of how the UAE will be shaped in the coming years.

The UAE Cabinet has announced this year's National Day public holiday will be held on December 2 and December 3.

Updated: August 24, 2023, 12:12 PM