UAE National Day: a moment that ended the gloom of 2020

Celebrations bring hope of better times to come as the UAE prepares for a momentous year

Across Abu Dhabi's Corniche, out in Al Wathba desert and in Dubai, spectacular fireworks illuminated the sky.

People watched from balconies and windows this year and even streamed the displays from the comfort of their homes.

It marked the end of a day of celebrations for the UAE’s 49th National Day but somehow it felt more than that.

As the fireworks lingered brightly in the evening sky, it seemed the gloom of 2020 and Covid-19 had lifted for the first time.

Across the country, large gatherings were eschewed but Emiratis and residents still came together in spirit to make sure the day was honoured.

The socially-distanced theme was central to Seeds of the Nation – an immersive performance created by designer Es Devlin, who was behind the London Olympics closing ceremony and the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It traced the growth of a seed that mirrored the rapid growth of the country. Centred around a revolving stage with fireworks lighting up the Abu Dhabi skyline in the background, the show honoured the frontline workers who battled the Covid-19 pandemic, traced the UAE's growing space programme, plans to build the Abrahamic Family House on Saadiyat Island and showed how the country supports people with disabilities. People could not attend in person this year but the show was beamed to millions in the UAE and even more across the globe.

During the day, Emiratis and residents also did their best to celebrate the holiday, and a few days off work, while observing safety measures. Children waved UAE flags in the Dubai desert, residents enjoyed quiet moments by the beach, sports fans watched cricket in Sharjah and everyone celebrated in a different but no less meaningful way than any year before.

The UAE’s 49th National Day also brought moments of joy for parents who welcomed newborns. National Day will also be even more significant in the lives of Ahmed Alkhajeh and Afra Saeed. The Emirati couple welcomed their first child into the world a little after midnight at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi. Little Khalifa Ahmed Alkhajeh weighed 2.7kg.

“We have been longing for this since Afra became pregnant,” said Mr Alkhajeh. “This is our first child and hence the entire family has been waiting for this day.

“It is a blessing that the child has been born when the nation as a whole is celebrating.”

The UAE’s Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, said celebrating National Day brought back precious memories of the Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed.

Sheikha Fatima, who is also chairwoman of the General Women's Union and president of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, said Sheikh Zayed and the other Rulers established a country that had wowed the world.

"As we end a federal year full of hard work, giving, achievements and cultural gains at local, regional and international levels, we will enter a new year while reinforcing our efforts, promoting co-operation, uniting our visions and committing to our values that led to the success of our beloved country," said Sheikha Fatima, who was the wife of Sheikh Zayed.

The UAE's leaders, who attended the Seeds of the Nation show, noted the challenges the year had brought but also looked ahead. The President, Sheikh Khalifa, said despite the significant losses of life and finances this year, the pandemic underlined "the efficiency of our healthcare system, [and] how prepared our country is in the face of emergencies and crises". The country was looking to the future, he said and it was a call reinforced by the other leaders.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the UAE's 49th National Day marked a milestone in the country's march to an even brighter future.

Also turning to the pandemic, Sheikh Mohamed said not only had the UAE dealt with Covid-19, it helped other countries do so as well

"The UAE believes that this crisis will pass and what is important is to not only tackle it effectively, but also have the ability to deal with the situation once the pandemic is over," said Sheikh Mohamed.

And as the fireworks lit up the UAE, it was only right that thoughts turned to next year when everyone hopes for a better time as the country celebrates 50 years.