With so many nationalities here in Abu Dhabi, we ask the people that live here how they celebrate the holiday season!
Where I come from, which is Kerala, the festivities and celebrations are very different to the ones I celebrate in the UAE.
We have a midnight mass and this is usually attended by all the family. After the mass, it’s time for the firecrackers and a huge feast prepared by the entire family.
When I was small, my cousins and I went out at night hunting for firecrackers; we found a bunch of them without the elders knowing, and we started lighting them up one by one when somehow the bush nearby caught fire. It wasn’t serious; everyone just laughed at it, but that will always be one of my fondest memories
I was brought up in the UAE, so the celebrations are a bit different. We put up the tree as early as possible – probably by mid-November if we can.
The entire day is meant for families coming over and eating and drinking and just being happy. On Christmas Eve, we have mass followed by a feast, which is prepared by my mum. We fast from 1st December until midnight on 24th December, so the joy of breaking it on Christmas Eve is something else.
Secret Santa is one of the highlights for sure. Setting a symbolic budget, this always sparks our creative juices to come up with a nice gift without breaking the bank.
It is always exciting seeing the community come together, no matter the occasion and whether they observe that particular celebration or not. Our friends and families are of different backgrounds so what I enjoy the most is spending more quality time together whether watching a festive movie, going to a concert or touring the tree lighting ceremonies across town with our daughter.
Christmas back home is cold, but its spirit warms us up. We start celebrating the season on the eve of 6th December, when Saint Nicholas pays us a visit and drops small gifts in our boots if we behaved well, or a rod if we misbehaved.
We put the Christmas tree up at the beginning of the month, and every year we invite all of our friends to decorate it. It’s a great time to exchange childhood stories and make meaningful connections. Carol singers are also a big part of our celebration until past New Year’s, and often times they wear traditional costumes mimicking a bear and other animals.
The dish that is present on all Romanian tables [on Christmas day] is sarmale, a dish similar to the Arabic malfouf, which consists of rolled pickled vine leaves or cabbage stuffed with mixed minced meat, rice and spices.
As a child, we used to sit by the window and try to catch Santa bringing our gifts (a huge thank you to my grandfather who used to dress as Santa Claus every year) – and, of course, we would leave a carrot for his reindeer and a glass of milk for him. Now, we do it for the kids – and grandfather is still rocking the costume!
Every family has their own traditions regarding when it’s the best time to open gifts – with mine, it’s always at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Christmas dinner is a mix of all the best French cuisine has to offer. We start with some salmon, foie gras and oysters. For the main course, we have meat – most of the time, duck – with potatoes and green beans or we have a meat fondue. As for the dessert, we will have a frozen Christmas log and since I’m from Provence, the 13 desserts, including the four beggars (almonds, raisins, dried figs, and nuts), fresh fruit, sweets and pastries and nougat.
If you are French-Canadian you go to midnight mass on 24th December, then have a big feast (réveillon), rip open presents and crash until noon. For English-Canadians you maybe watch a festive movie on the evening of the 24th (It’s A Wonderful Life), snack on cocoa and mandarin oranges, go to sleep (difficult if you’re a kid awaiting loot), then attack the presents in the morning and have turkey for dinner.
One tradition, especially in the countryside, is to go into the woods or to a tree farm and chop down your own Christmas tree.
Once I was so eager for Christmas I woke up on 24th December and convinced myself it was the 25th. I convinced my brother, too, but perhaps heeding a faint inner doubt I told him to open his presents first. Then my dad stormed in and my brother was in trouble…
Decorations go up on 1st September and like Western traditions, we also put up a Christmas tree, garlands and angels. In addition, Filipino homes put up what we call ‘parol’ or lantern, which is essentially a huge Christmas star by the window or front porch.
Being a predominantly Catholic nation, going to church is an important part of Christmas. In the Philippines, churches hold early morning masses called Misa De Gallo or Simbang Gabi, which take place from 16th to 24th December between 3am and 5am.
The most important days for us are 24th and 25th December. On Christmas Eve, we all stay up past midnight and eat, open gifts (my grandparents usually allowed us to open one gift each and put it back so that the tree won’t look empty for the next day), sing karaoke and generally just bond with the whole family under one roof.
On Christmas Day, we have somewhat of an open house. Relatives (first, second and even third cousins, aunts and uncles) visit each other and basically move from house to house eating along the way. We usually put up a buffet of food that we just refill the whole day.
In general, it’s about family. Most Filipinos don’t live back home as they work abroad. Seeing everyone, eating together, going to church together and even giving gifts in person is so rare and precious that it makes the yearlong wait (and expensive air ticket) worth it.