• Giulia Turchetti

Christmas & NYE in Dubai: 24 Thoughts

Updated: May 1

What to expect when you choose to celebrate the festivities in the UAE.

Celebrating Christmas and New Year's Eve in the UAE is a special and, in many ways, untraditional experience. In this post, we write about how we made the most of our festivities in Dubai this year.

How Christmas in the UAE differs from Europe:

1. For starters, Christmas is not a public holiday in the UAE, given that it isn't a religious holiday under Islam. However, Christmas is still widely celebrated across the UAE, not only by Christian expats, but also by some locals, who enjoy the festive spirit of this Holiday and will often exchange gifts or partake in Christmas movie screenings or other Christmas-themed activities organised across the country. So, while Christmas may not be an official celebration here, there is an incredible sense of tolerance from the locals.

2. One aspect of the Christmas season that is definitely different in the UAE is the lack of cold weather and snow, which is so characteristic of this celebration in many European countries. Here, you will most likely experience sunshine and a mild 25 degrees Celsius, with some occasional artificial snow in the malls.

3. Just like us, many people who live in the UAE have their extended families living elsewhere. While in Europe we would usually celebrate Christmas with our parents and other relatives, here Rene and I celebrated the festivities just between ourselves and with some of our closer friends.

4. While there are many Christmas markets that you can attend in the UAE, and they are beautifully set up, they can sometimes feel more like a summer picnic given the sunny weather. This doesn't mean they are better or worse than in Europe - it's simply a different and quite unique experience. My favourite Christmas market is the Swiss Market organised yearly at the Beach Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi. With the many food stalls serving a variety of delicacies such as fondue, roasted Christmas apples, and chocolate pralines supplied by Lindt, the Swiss folk music, and the various stalls selling hand-made goods, this is an incredible event to attend for those who are in the UAE around Christmas time.

How Christmas in the UAE can feel similar to Europe:

5. Whether it's snowy or sunny, whether you live in Dubai or elsewhere, there is one constant about the Christmas season: the Christmas trees, standing tall and proud in hotel lobbies, malls, Dubai Marina, along with the beautiful tree lighting ceremonies, which are entertaining for adults and children alike.

6. Beyond the Christmas trees, there are plenty of events organised every year to convey a festive and joyful spirit: Christmas concerts at Dubai Opera, movie screenings of Home Alone and Love Actually at Dubai's outdoor cinemas, and the unmissable loud Christmas music playing in the malls and supermarkets (sometimes starting way too early - who even does that in October?).

7. Did I mention FOOD already? No? Well, this is the season for anyone who likes to indulge in sweet treats: restaurants in Dubai love to organise Christmas-themed brunches and dinners. You can also easily get your hands on advent calendars and international Christmas sweets such as gingerbread or Italian panettone at most supermarkets like Carrefour or Waitrose.

8. While many people enjoy the Christmas atmosphere, not everyone celebrates the religious origins of this Holiday. Those who do, however, are welcome to the many Churches in the UAE where the Holy Mass is held and worshippers can share the celebration of this blessed time.

9. While I mentioned earlier that Christmas is not a public holiday here, many people either take a half or a full day off: most employers understand if you wish to celebrate Christmas at home with your family.

How Rene and I celebrated Christmas 2019:

This Christmas was particularly special for Rene and I - since it was the first one that we celebrated together as a little family. We wanted to make it really memorable, so we did a number of things:

10. Is it even Christmas time if you don't show off your ice-skating skills and laugh while you watch other people stumble on their skates? I admit that in our case, Rene was the one laughing... Anyway, we couldn't possibly have missed out on this experience, so we ventured to Dubai Mall's Ice Rink and had a lot fun ice-skating while listening to Christmas carols and having the illusion of (fake) snow pouring on us.

11. If we had been in Europe, we would probably have gotten a real Christmas pine. However, for this year, we decided that a medium-budget Christmas tree delivered with love from Amazon would do just fine. It actually exceeded our expectations - we were so pleased with our tree and loved decorating it.

12. You say Christmas tree, I say Christmas gifts! To complete our Christmas preparations, we placed many beautifully-wrapped gift bags under our Amazon tree and tried not to peek into the packs until Christmas Eve (with more or less success).

13. When the calendar finally marked December 24th, we were so excited to exchange our gifts and take our first Christmas photos together. We tried setting up the timer on our professional camera, and after quite a few attempts, we ended up with the shot that reflects us best...me, him, and our Alpaca pillow.

Our first Christmas portrait as a family

14. After our mini-photoshoot in our living room, we got ready for dinner at our friends' place and went on to celebrate the Eve with them. It's always interesting for me to see how other cultures understand and celebrate Christmas, and what kind of food is prepared - put together an Italian-Hungarian, an Estonian, a Russian and a couple more nationalities, and you will end up with a very interesting Christmas dinner...

15. My definition of Christmas is incomplete without Hungarian and Italian treats. Once we got home from our friends, we opened up the pack of Hungarian Christmas sweets that I took with me all the way from Budapest when I had visited back in November. This candy 'szaloncukor' is usually made of fondant and covered in a thin chocolate layer, wrapped into Christmassy paper, and hung on the Christmas tree.

16. To conclude our Christmas celebrations, Rene and I Skyped our families - while it's not exactly the same as being together in reality, it always fills us with joy to be able to see them and hear their voices.

How we celebrated New Year's Eve:

17. While we have lived in the UAE for quite a long time now, neither Rene nor I had ever celebrated New Year's Eve in Dubai properly - by properly, I mean by seeing the grandiose fireworks that are organized every NYE around the landmarks of the city. This year, we decided to make up for it.

18. To realize our firework-watching plan, we chose to spend the night at the Pearl Lounge in Jumeirah Beach Hotel, located right across the Burj Al Arab. It was the best choice we could have made and an incredible experience - we saw some of the most famous fireworks in the world while enjoying everything from champagne to great canapés, sweets, and wine. To give you an idea of the world-famous fireworks...

19. While going out on New Year's Eve is fun, getting home in Dubai a couple of hours after midnight gets quite chaotic and will test anyone's patience. You will find people everywhere on the streets, taxis hard to find and over-priced, you will most likely get stuck in traffic jams...but the fireworks are all worth it.

20. Another cool option to see the fireworks would have been to go Downtown and see the ones popped around the Burj Khalifa. We live closer to the Burj Al Arab, so this year we went for the Pearl Lounge, however we might choose the Burj Khalifa ones next year...

21. We are not too much into New Year's propositions, but we are all for writing down our goals, plans, and aspirations. So we did some reflection on what we wanted to achieve both as individuals and as a couple, and we hope to tick as many as possible off our list by the end of the year.

22. Final thought #1: it may sound over-rated, but the highlight of this year's celebrations for us really were the magnificent fireworks We are so glad that we have been able to experience seeing these, and it's something we would totally recommend to anyone coming to Dubai for NYE.

23. Final thought #2: when celebrating NYE in Dubai, it's extremely important to book a place a couple of weeks in advance and get there well ahead of midnight. We left our home around 9:00 PM this year and we made it on time - however, the traffic jams get real, as everyone is on the rush to go to their NYE spot.

24. Final thought #3: as a fun fact, in Hungary, we usually eat lentils on the first day of the New Year, as they say this brings wealth and prosperity for the times to come. Do you have any particular Christmas and New Year's Eve traditions? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Us

The Weekly 24 is a blog where we write about our life as a couple based in Dubai, having lived in the UAE for 6+ years. We also write about travels to our favorite destinations, reflecting on each trip 24 ideas at a time.

©2020 by Giulia Turchetti & Rene Kukk.