People who haven’t lived in the UAE are pretty curious about what Christmas is like here. It’s probably not what you expect. Those of us who celebrate the holiday are really quite spoiled considering we live in a predominantly Muslim country. I can buy religious themed Christmas cards, alongside cards with camels wearing Santa hats. Pick the best Butterball turkey out of a large selection. Listen to Christmas songs while shopping, including ones about Jesus. Go to Potterybarn and Crate and Barrel and buy all the same holiday-themed decorations and entertaining accessories I can get in the States. Watch my sons bashfully chat with Santa in an elaborate display at the mall. Carry on the tradition of eating panettone on Christmas morning. And there’s even other perks, like going to Toys R Us three days before Christmas without having to deal with a throng of people and long lines, and all the toys are still neatly stacked and not strewn about in a disorganized mess like in the stores in the US around this time of year. The workers in the stores are super nice and eager to impart some Christmas cheer; forget the disgruntled sales associate. And I suppose if you are really missing the snow, a trip to Ski Dubai (the indoor ski slope and snow park) would temporarily satisfy your craving.
Even with all of this, Christmas just feels different here. People still complain about not feeling “in the spirit” and I’m guilty of the same, even though we are afforded plenty of christmasy indulgences. For starters, our family is a 10-15 hour plane ride away, depending on which side you’re talking about. No parents or siblings to goof around with or share a bottle of wine. No cousins for our kids to play with. That’s sad. Also, there are no outside Christmas decorations. Yes, the malls definitely get into the spirit, but I really miss seeing houses lit up and street decorations. Something about driving around looking at the lights has a way of creating a quiet and reflective mood after a long day of hustle and bustle. Also, Christmas day is a regular working day for most of the city. And lastly, the weather. Now, I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love our balmy, cloudless weather. Independent of the Christmas season, it really is quite nice. And let’s be honest, Houston is not exactly the poster-child for classic Christmas weather. (Yes, my father has been known to crank up the air conditioner just so we can sit by a crackling fire without sweating to death.) But, generally, even in Houston, you can be assured of a few chilly and even cold days. When you want to cozy up with a hot chocolate near the Christmas tree, the relentless sunny, bright days and temperate weather here can be a little off-putting.
In the midst of my December-in-the-desert grumpiness, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and tagged along with my husband on a business trip to the UK. I just couldn’t reconcile my perpetual uniform of flip flops and sundresses with the impending holiday. No amount of listening to Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song could help. We packed up the boys and away we flew, and we relished every last bit of the cold, dreary weather. We came back feeling refreshed and ready to bake cookies, buy gifts and bring out the decorations.
At the end of the day, however, we never get too bogged down in the trivial comparisons to home to remember what’s truly important. We are so grateful for our beautiful family, near and far, fabulous friends and our health. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! Wishing everyone all the best for 2012!