From the shores of the Indian Ocean to the salt flats of Abu Dhabi, citizens and residents gathered together on Monday to celebrate the country they call home.
The impromptu National Day parades have been replaced by formal ceremonies and concerts but above all, National Day remains a time for families to gather around the campfire or in the majlis.
Bashar Saad, an Iraqi raised in Sharjah, hit the dunes south of Dubai with the UAE Pajero Club for their annual National Day drive. The drivers camped dune side the night before.
“First and foremost it’s a holiday so everybody’s free and we love the desert. We have to be in the desert. If you ever spend a night in the desert, it so quiet. It is the best thing for you.”
Melanie Sanchez, her husband Jesse and their three year old child, packed up their car the night before and headed for a family camping trip at Al Qudra Lakes.
For Ms Sanchez, who lives in Abu Dhabi, the long weekend was a rare chance to reconnect with her sister’s family, who live in Dubai. Both Ms Sanchez and her sister met their husbands in the Emirates and had their children here.
“That’s why the UAE is very special for us,” said Ms Sanchez.
“It’s a big love story for us,” said her brother-in-law, Jojo Sanchez, who is 41.
Nearby, Sarannya Arun, who was born in Kerala but raised in Sharjah, explored the manmade lakes with her three-year-old son, husband and in-laws. “The holiday is a chance together get with the family,” said Ms Arun, who is 33. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have the time, actually. We’re in work daily, we never get the time to come here.”
For her, National Day marks the foundation of the country she has always called home. Her father worked at Sharjah International Airport.
“It’s our second home, actually,” she said of the Emirates. Her sisters returned to India at a young age to study but she stayed on. “What to say? I just got settled here.”
In the Northern Emirates, National Day celebrations began the night before with picnickers lining the dunes alongside Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed motorway, celebrating the holiday with firelight and cardamom-infused tea alongside the road that connects the country.
In downtown Ras Al Khaimah, a free concert titled Ambition of a Nation, featuring Emirati superstars Hussain Al Jassmi and Eida Al Menhali, lit up the downtown.
Folklore bands and food trucks offering Emirati dishes parked at Mina Al Arab lagoon walk, where people danced to the rhythms of local music.
“This day is a glorious one and represents the birth of our beloved country, and we are all here to celebrate our country,” said Ahmad Al Zaabi, an Emirati father of two who came to RAK with his family from Abu Dhabi. “We all live in a great country that has developed tremendously throughout the years, and what better day to celebrate our unity, accomplishments and progress other than the National Day.”
Abdullah Bin Badr, a 14-year-old Emirati, drove up with his family to enjoy the festive atmosphere from neighbouring Umm Al Quwain.
“I came to celebrate with my family and show my love to the country and how proud I am of its achievements,” said Abdullah.
Kamal Hassan, an Egyptian father of two, looked on while his children played games and ate sweets.
“We love the UAE like we love our home country and celebrating this great day is one of the ways to show our respect and appreciation to the country and the leaders,” said Mr Hassan, who is 38. “The children are enjoying their time, and we are enjoying the traditional Emirati dances and treats.”
In Sharjah, people flocked to the Sharjah Maritime Museum for a maritime parade of dhows, yachts, motorboats, and vessels owned by the police and coastguard.
Waiting to board one of the vessels with her daughter, Iraqi Nawal Yaseen said National Day was a celebration of her home.
“I don’t just encourage my kids to celebrate the day but I join them because I consider UAE my home,” she said. “My family has been living here for more than 20 years, my sisters married Emirati men, and my daughters were born here. This is our home.”
Bibinor, an Uzbek mother, had brought her nine and ten-year-old daughters to join the parade.
“It brings people together,” she said. “I came here years ago and didn’t know I would meet the man with who I will spend the rest of my life with.”
“The UAE unifies us all,” she said. “I’m Uzbek and my husband is Iraqi and my daughters feel as proud as Emiratis.”