National Day pride takes flight as memorabilia sales skyrocket

Excitement is running high this National Day, perhaps best illustrated by the latest National Day trend – large, patriotic balloons.
National Day decorations adorne a Khalifa City villa in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike for The National
National Day decorations adorne a Khalifa City villa in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike for The National

The UAE is celebrating in many wonderful ways, but it’s a lighter-than-air touch that has captured Emirati imagination.

In the past couple of weeks, big balloons in friendly colours have been seen floating across the country.

A new craze has taken hold in the lead-up to this year’s National Day, with large balloons in UAE flag colours tethered to villas as symbols of unity and pride.

While celebrations of heritage and culture capture the imagination of UAE residents, memorabilia also has its place.

Cars are wrapped in patriotic imagery and adorned with images of the country’s leaders, current and historic, while houses are draped in large flags and all sorts of badges, scarves and pennants are worn and waved with enthusiasm.

“They are beautiful in the house,” Bisharat Ali, manager of Adam Gallery in Abu Dhabi, says of the balloons. “We had them last year but we didn’t sell very many. This year many locals want them.”

The shop, one of the city’s most popular for National Day and patriotic memorabilia, has a brand new collection of goods.

The helium balloons — in red, green, black and white and measuring two cubic metres — are among the most popular.

Drivers can see them dotted across the country; even more so after Monday’s rain left them shiny and clean.

Adam Gallery imported 500 balloons from China and has sold more than 450 so far. They cost Dh1,100 each, with a little wiggle room for negotiation, including gas and installation.

The balloons are also being sold by a Chinese company on the trading website Alibaba.com for about Dh950 each, with a minimum order of five. The supplier says it can supply 1,000 balloons a day.

Ahmad Al Qubaisi, 47, an Emirati, bought a large balloon from Adam Gallery and sent it high above his Salam Street villa.

“I read about them in the newspaper,” says Mr Al Qubaisi, a father of three. “I knew I wanted one. Lots of people have told me they like it. They ask where I got it from and say, ‘how much for this?’”

Mr Al Qubaisi, who works in oil and construction, says he saw the helium balloons on buildings during earlier National Day celebrations but was not sure how to get of one.

“Inshallah, I can use it next year also. I think it just needs refilling,” he says.

But while the balloon holds the fort at home, Mr Al Qubaisi expects he will not be in the city for National Day. “We have a farm between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and we go there as a family.”

He says he keeps the balloon’s rope shorter than he would like, to make sure he does not get in any trouble with the police.

Last year, residents were urged to contact airport authorities for guidance before putting up the helium balloons.

The General Civil Aviation Authority said they were dangerous to aircraft, particularly at night, because they could damage aircraft engines if hit.

At Adam Gallery this week, Tarek Al Suwaidi, 42, also from Abu Dhabi, decided against buying the balloon and instead stocked up on some of the new pin designs — enough to stop his four children squabbling over them.

“Maybe they want this one, maybe that one, I need more than the number of children I have,” Mr Al Suwaidi says.

He says he celebrates National Day every year with his family, without fail.

“This year we will go to the parade on the Corniche as a family, with all the children,” Mr Al Suwaidi says.

But the balloons are not the only in-demand new piece of memorabilia this year. The three-fingered salute introduced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, is available as a key ring, a broach or a necklace for up to Dh40.

Meanwhile, a colourful pin displaying the year 1971, the date of the UAE’s unification, is available for Dh45.

There is a desk ornament based on the image of the UAE’s seven founding leaders, as well as a badge with Al Emarat written in calligraphy.

One of the more unusual pieces for sale at Adam Gallery is a packet of stickers coloured red, black and green and depicting fingerprints. A pack contains four large fingerprints, 12 smaller ones and images of the UAE flag and map, also drawn in fingerprints.

There is a soft new cream-coloured scarf on the market for Dh70, complete with gold embroidery, which Mr Ali says has been flying off the shelves.

But for those who want the complete package, there is a National Day kit, including a baseball cap, badge, pen, flag, scarf, both a large and small flag and prayer beads for Dh120.

If the Dh1,100 price tag seems a bit too steep for a large balloon, there are also balloons for sale in Dubai’s Satwa area. One shop, Book Shop 2000, is selling smaller balloons for Dh180.

Sarhad Nami, manager of Gift Garden department store behind the Emarat Petrol station, says his shop has already sold the several dozen balloons it bought this year.

“We sold so many to families, to schools,” Mr Nami says. “We had very big ones selling for Dh600, medium-sized for Dh450 and small ones for Dh300. They’re all gone now, we had limited stock.”

“These ones,” says Mr Nami, pointing to a string of flags with the UAE’s current leaders, “have the new sheikhs, and these ones have the old ones.”

The founding Rulers are depicted on the flags in the now familiar silhouette shot in front of the UAE flag.

He says different people buy different banners, although many buy both. The flags sell for as little as Dh10, making them affordable for most.

Mr Nami says it is not only Emiratis who are passionate about National Day.

“Some of our customers are Arab, but we also have so many Indian and Pakistani customers. They like to buy them to wear, as well as for schools.

“Emiratis buy lots of flags. Five metres, 10 metres, even 20 metre flags — we sell hundreds of them.”

Elsewhere in Satwa, residents can have images of the UAE flag and its leaders attached to their car windows. It costs about Dh300 to Dh550 to have the back and side windows decorated.

halbustani@thenational.ae

munderwood@thenational.ae

Published: December 2, 2014 04:00 AM

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