Why I love spending Christmas in the UAE

From a festive morning on the beach to saving on the flight fare – the case for not going 'home' at Christmas

Christmas mornings on the beach have become a tradition for many in the UAE. Farah Andrews / The National
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“Are you going home for Christmas?” is how a remarkable number of my conversations have started since early December.

For those who celebrate, there is a flurry of activity associated with the holiday ― shopping, parties, children’s shows, decorating a tree and eating, lots of eating ― as the month charges towards December 25. And if you live away from your home country, there may well be another essential on the Christmas to-do list: book a flight home.

This is backed by numbers. Emirates sends out an annual warning for people to get to the airport early as it prepares to face hundreds of thousands of passengers travelling all around the world in the last two weeks of December.

Spending time with family and loved ones is a key part of the holiday as are, arguably, snow, cosy fireplace scenes and warming drinks (in much of the Northern Hemisphere), so it makes sense that people rush to board flights and seek out those tropes.

But I’m here to make the case for Christmas in the UAE.

Father Christmas on an abra at Madinat Jumeirah. Farah Andrews / The National

I should start with the disclaimer that my family lives here, so I know this has affected my decision to stay in the Emirates for festivities in the past. However, on the whole, we have a history of choosing to celebrate in the UAE rather than the UK.

En masse, we have decamped to Edinburgh for Christmas once in the past 10 years, and there were things I loved about the trip, of course. Christmas markets where a hot chocolate doesn’t send you to the brink of heat stroke, the incredible lights around the city, the novelty of snow away from Ski Dubai and spending time with extended family.

However, there were things I didn’t love. Call me old fashioned, but I like waking up in my own bed on Christmas morning ― it’s where your stocking should be hung, after all ― and as you break the back of 30, several nights spent on a sofa bed aren’t conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Slumber (or lack thereof) aside, the trip is the only time I have lost the bulk of my Christmas presents. My suitcase didn’t make the connection from London Heathrow to Glasgow airport, resulting in a delay in gift-giving on my part. I thanked my lucky stars that my heaviest winter coat didn’t fit in the case, so I didn’t have to face a 3°C arrival in leggings and a T-shirt.

Edinburgh is known for being particularly beautiful at Christmas and The Dome on George Street is one of the most decorative buildings. PA

I’ve spoken to a good few fellow Brits who are happy they have given Christmas in the UK a miss this year. Flights home were extortionate ― one-way, direct economy tickets to London are costing as much as Dh8,563 to book this week.

It is already an expensive time of year, so the burden of an extra plane ticket can more than take its toll. Not to mention transport around the UK, which is shaping up to be treacherous during weeks of strikes, and the prospect of a white Christmas has been dampened by weeks of rain after the flurry of mid-December snow.

In my experience, people put a lot of effort into making it “feel Christmas-sy” in the UAE. Houses are decorated to the nines, people seek out the most festive cafes, bars and restaurants, and malls are transformed into grottos. So, far from feeling like a Grinch, there are plenty of places in the UAE to make a beeline for and fill your festive boots.

People also make an effort to forge new festive traditions. Many flock to the beach or desert annually on Christmas morning, relish the day spent in the sunshine (a stark departure from December 25 in European countries) and have the opportunity to celebrate with others from around the world, blending together all their favourite festive customs.

So for now, I’m more than content with a Christmas spent at home in the UAE, celebrating with my family and the friends I enjoy time with year-round. Perhaps I’ll get my fix of winter with a trip somewhere snowy come January, albeit with a much more affordable plane ticket.

Updated: December 23, 2022, 6:02 PM
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