I’m back in Britain after a relaxing break in the Middle East and it’s hard to miss that Christmas is nearly here. The main streets of my home city, Bristol, have an array of colourful lights and other decorations. Shopping centres are playing Christmas CDs on continuous loop. But much to my surprise, the city’s giant Christmas trees are still in place – they haven’t found their way to the homes of university students.
Despite being a Muslim state, I sensed a similar excitement in Dubai to Christmas – in all but name. The sprawling shopping malls that I talked about in earlier posts had some of the most impressive decorations I have seen in years. Tinsel adorned shops. The only thing missing was the word ‘Christmas’, instead shoppers were offered warm greetings for the ‘festive season’.
Even though ‘Happy Christmas’ is missing from festive banners, everyone in Dubai knows what all the fuss is all about. ‘Christmas’ craft markets are in full swing and soon the expats will mysteriously disappear for their holidays, even though Christmas Day and Boxing Day are not officially recognised in the country.
This hush, hush attitude to Western and Christian values has helped Dubai become so successful in wooing outside investors, while at the same time keeping the local Emiratis happy.
It’s the same thinking for the sale of alcohol, where only hotels and private members clubs can gain licenses for serving beers, wines and spirits. So what you find in Dubai is everything from pubs and wine bars ‘attached’ to plush five star plus residences. Yet, in reality it can at times be quite hard to spot the hotels that drinking venues are actually attached to – I was drinking in beach bars where there didn’t appear to be a hotel in sight. In the same way I walked into private members clubs without actually having to show a membership card!
As I left Dubai, the office Christmas parties were in full swing. Back, in Britain the boozy affairs that take over our town centres don’t look much different. The only thing missing is the sun, sea and sand.