Christmas in UAE feels like home, say residents
Dubai - Celebrating the capacity to give without expecting anything in return.
A couple of weeks ago, Carlo Ganagagag, a 24-year-old who had just arrived in Dubai, thought he would be having a bleak Christmas. He was wrong.
Being thousands of miles away from his family and friends has not deprived him of the opportunity to enjoy the festive season here. After all, the UAE - despite being a Muslim country - is favourably tolerant of other cultures.
"I find the happy Christmas spirit in Dubai quite impressive. Christmas lights and decorations are everywhere while malls and radio stations play yuletide carols," Carlo told Khaleej Times.
The Filipino expat said he was also surprised to see a large crowd attending Simbang Gabi every night at St Mary's Church in Oud Metha.
'Simbang Gabi' (Night Mass) is a long-held Filipino tradition of going to a nine-day series of masses from December 16 to Christmas Eve.
"I guess close to 25,000 people here go to church for the Simbang Gabi," he said. "The mass was held in Filipino, traditional Christmas carols were sung, and all sorts of Filipino Christmas food were on sale. It all felt like home."
Being away from home was not easy at first for Erika Amanda Berdon, 24. "But the sadness didn't linger for long, thanks to the presence of my friends who introduced me to more friends. I felt their thoughtfulness and warm camaraderie," she said.
"I also appreciate how the UAE has made everyone feel like they're just home and that they can celebrate festive occasions here. I've actually spent the last couple of nights hopping from one Christmas party to another at various homes and offices," said Erika.
For Russian expat Olga Ivanov, 25, there are some aspects of the festive celebrations back home that cannot be replicated in Dubai. "But because it's not too cold and wintry, you could actually do more activities and have fun here," she said.
"When I came to Dubai in September, I have already psyched up my mind that I will embrace whatever the city has to offer. I was not disappointed, and now I'm excited to make new traditions with people I've met here - like spending Christmas by having barbeque in the desert," Olga added.
Long-time Dubai resident Dr Rex Bacarra, who is spending his 10th Christmas here, said being away from home does not mean he is lonely. "In my experience as an expat, the first Christmas away from home was the loneliest but the distance teaches us the true meaning of Christmas.
"It is the happiness we give to the ones we left behind. It is the sacrifice we make so that the people we love get to enjoy how to suitably live," said Rex, who is a professor of philosophy and humanities at The American College of Dubai.
"This sacrifice we make to make other people happy is what the true meaning of Christmas is - the thought of giving without expecting anything in return," he added.