Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desert Notes: White Christmas

: I think every South African secretly longs to experience a white Christmas. I never imagined that my first white Christmas would happen in the desert.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing songs with words such as “winter wonderland”; “dashing through the snow”; and “while the snow lay round about” etc etc? And despite our fantastic December summer weather, secretly would love to experience a real white Christmas.

This year was my first winter Christmas, but because I’m living in the desert, the last thing I expected to see was snow.

Okay, I exaggerated slightly. I didn’t actually SEE the snow. But it definitely did snow in the United Arab Emirates. Not in Abu Dhabi itself, but in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah which is nearer Dubai. It was the first recorded snow fall in the UAE. Ever. It made headlines, and local bigwigs hopped in their BMW 645 Ci’s to go have a look.

Okay. There is one more little exaggeration. It didn’t actually snow ON Christmas day. It happened a day or two later. But it was definitely very near Christmas.

But hey, I’m not complaining, it was the closest I’ve ever been to a white Christmas, so who are you to begrudge me a little, um, fudging of the truth?

I got lots of questions about how christmassy Christmas could be in a Moslem country. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect myself.

I certainly wasn’t expecting cheesy Christmas carols, and bad radio adverts converting them into ever cheesier sales pitches. Well, like South Africa, and the rest of the world, Christmas is marketing heaven. I think the worst two adverts came from Energiser batteries and Giordano clothing. Both picked on the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and mauled it to market their respective products.

Christmas was pretty much everywhere – the malls were decked out in plastic holly, ivy and assorted fir trees. You could even sit on Santa’s lap – at a price of course. The one thing I did notice that was many signs chose to say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.”

You could buy any kind of Christmassy thing you fancied. From real Christmas trees to the fake kind, from Christmas pudding to roasted chestnuts. You name it, you could get it. I was completely delighted to find mince pies, as they are a seasonal favourite of mine.

Kids could write letters to Santa and post them at various spots around the city, and my eldest daughter (just 4 at the time) was totally delighted when he came to visit her school. Though she did whisper to me that he was definitely “a fake” as she could see the elastic around his ears! But she also firmly told me that she didn’t mind, as she knew that the real Father Christmas was very busy at this time of year, so got people to help him out for things like this.

I’m sure she’s right.

The biggest difference is that Christmas Day is not a public holiday, and most businesses run as usual, though are understanding about days off for those who do celebrate the holiday. Many small businesses make the most of this, and we had plenty of pamphlets popped in our gate telling me where I could get my hair and nails done on Christmas morning before our big lunch.

We chose to have our Christmas lunch at a hotel, as I missed my family a great deal, and having it at home without them would have been too much to bear.

It was terrific. You could get every type of Christmassy food that you could imagine. From macaroni with Roquefort cheese (this one made me giggle) to Duck a la Orange to pork roast. It was a huge buffet.

They also made a special effort for the kids. They had a special kids buffet set up with stuff that kids like to eat – from spaghetti bolognaise to chicken nuggets. They had a jumping castle, face painting, a play area, a video area, colouring books and of course, a visit by Father Christmas who handed out an odd assortment of gifts to a United Nations gathering of excited children. Though what my one year old is going to do with a pink acrylic chess set, I’m not quite sure.

All in all, it was a Christmas to remember. Even if it wasn’t really a white one!

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