On Christmas Day in 2017, The National photographed American family Matt and Lori Hubbard with their children Olivia and Gage in front of a camel on the beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dubai. All smiles for the camera, the family were in festive Santa hats while the camel is appropriately sporting fabrics with arabesque patterns.
It’s a far cry from the “traditional” Christmas family portrait. And while the UAE has always been a trailblazer when it comes to shattering stereotypes and heralding in new traditions, it has a 200-year history of picturesque wintery Christmas culture messaging to compete with.
It is said that legendary English author Charles Dickens invented Christmas. Or, to be specific, he reinvented the festive holiday, immortalising the quaint, picturesque idea we have of a very snowy, white Christmas.
His 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol — which has since been reimagined many times on the stage, screen and print — has been credited in creating the idea of a wintery Christmas across the collective mainstream.
It’s important to note that London does not often have a white Christmas. As reported in The Guardian, Dickens' biographer Peter Ackroyd says a run of eight unusually cold winters during the writer's childhood inspired the idea of a white Christmas in his novel.
This inaccurate representation of Christmas in London was the basis for what many now recognise as the perfect Christmas aesthetic, but one that few can relate to.
Here in the UAE, the festive season does fall in winter, albeit a winter of sunshine, beaches and desert barbecues. For years, people have been celebrating Christmas in the UAE, in pleasant, perfect weather, with outdoor brunches, beach trips, garden get-togethers and, for some, even a snapshot with a camel.
An argument exists that a more authentic Christmas would be one celebrated in the desert, since Christmas is commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ who, as the New Testament tells us, was born in Bethlehem, a city not known for its snowy winters.
And while debates ensue over whether a cold wintery Christmas, with hot chocolate in hand as you watch snow fall through the living room window, is better than a sunny festive day, with cold jugs of ice-filled mocktails and the beach just a short drive away, the question really is whether it matters at all.
While we’re caught up with the decorations, presents and spectacularly uncool Christmas jumpers, it’s not really about whether we should be skiing or surfing on Christmas day, it’s about family, friends and spending time together and making sure we get that snapshot, just as the Hubbard family (plus camel) did.