From importing Dh800 tree to 128-day celebration: How UAE families keep Christmas tradition alive

Residents from different countries share their holiday customs, and how they celebrate the festival in their own way

by

Nandini Sircar

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Published: Mon 18 Dec 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 18 Dec 2023, 11:03 PM

As the holiday season draws near, many expats in the UAE are actively preparing for Christmas. The sparkle of Christmas balls, the shimmer of tinsels, the glow of stars, and the magical ambiance created by the lights are adding a special touch to residents’ lives.

People are investing considerable thought and effort into adorning their Christmas trees. We spoke to some expats about their holiday traditions and how they plan to decorate for the season.

Dh800 tree from Canada

American expat in Dubai, Natalia Miranda, is following a cherished tradition of welcoming the holiday season by securing a genuine Christmas tree sourced from Canada. Despite the significant expense, she fervently upholds this ritual, firmly asserting that artificial trees cannot compare to the authenticity of real ones.

“We set up the Christmas tree right after the US Thanksgiving Day. We are crazy... we order a real Christmas tree from Canada. It comes in a shipping container and it costs Dh800,” she quipped.

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“The accessories for the Christmas tree arrive from the US but we buy the lights from here. Decorating the Christmas tree every year feels like an event in the house. It takes about two hours to decorate the tree. My husband, son, and I do it up annually. My seven-year-old loves the activity.”

She explains whenever she is home in California around this time she opts to cut down a fresh one from the forest. “It is a very American and Canadian tradition.”

Explaining how the family disposes of the Christmas tree, the JLT resident said many local conservation groups welcome them.

“Usually there are different organisations here that repurpose these trees. One year we donated it to a cat sanctuary here, where they cut the branches off and the cats use it as a scratching post. Sometimes, it goes into recycling. Every year we try to find something different,” she added.

Trees up in September

Meanwhile, Felizze Faye Navarro is maintaining a different tradition related to Christmas — setting up her tree in September.

She highlights that the Filipino Christmas begins as soon as the ‘Ber’ month rolls in, running for about 128 days until Three Kings’ Day, sometimes even reaching 166.

It’s very special this year for the Abu Dhabi resident, who now has two infants.

“I recently delivered my second child. When there are more babies, you have all the more a reason to put up the Christmas tree. This is the fifth year that we have put up the Christmas tree early. We usually put it up by September 1 as per our tradition. In the Philippines, Christmas songs start playing in the malls by this month, and everything around is sparkling.”

Felizze’s home's six-foot-tall tree was sourced from Carrefour and IKEA, where she also acquired its accessories.

“The real trees are quite expensive and it’s difficult to maintain. I usually reuse the accessories instead of buying new ones every year, unless something is damaged.”

She also explains how Christmas is a time when she feels nostalgic wrapping gifts for families and friends to put them under the tree.

“My mom had a cassette tape for Christmas songs. Those songs we played for a decade in our house, I remember. Whenever I hear those carols, it always reminds me of how we spent our time around Christmas during our childhood.”

Replanting trees

Similarly, French expat in Dubai Christine Quartier La Tente approaches her Christmas decorations with unwavering dedication, treating it as a serious annual project.

She said, “This year I am a bit late for Christmas, but I do have a tree at the carport which is 2m high. I have put up some inflatables, a big arch, and a nutcracker. I also have a lamppost with a music box inside and the snow.”

Shedding light on the tradition in her home country, Christine added, “In France, the practices around setting up a tree are quite different. One can buy real Christmas trees in the pot and then buyers can bring them back to the shops, who plant them in the forests, or an individual can go to the woods themselves, find a spot, and plant the tree.”

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