How To Feel Festive in the UAE
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How To Feel Festive in the UAE

With Christmas quickly approaching, we take a look at what you can do to get in the festive spirit in the UAE.

The UAE can be a strange place for expats around the holidays. Whilst relatives in Europe or the USA are frolicking in the snow or huddling around the fireplace drinking hot chocolate, people here are still sunbathing at the beach or splashing about in the swimming pool. Understandably, it can be hard to get into that Christmas holiday spirit. Christmas in the UAE is not a lost cause though, it can and should be about compromises that bring the best out of your situation. Here you can keep the old traditions of cold, miserable, wet England whilst enjoying the delights of sun, sand and sea. Just think how jealous the relatives back home will be when they find out you get to drink your mulled wine in shorts and flip-flops, between bouts of beach volleyball and swims in the sea. With that in mind, we've found some ways to make sure that despite the 20 degree heat we can properly celebrate this festive season.

Festive Activities

For a predominantly Muslim region, it turns out that there are plenty of ways to get in the Christmas holiday mood in the UAE. The Emirates truly know how to cater to Western festivities. Here are some of the bigger events going on throughout the region (mostly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi) in the build-up to Christmas and even on the day itself;

  • 6-8th Dec. Kids and adults alike can enjoy the Dubai Christmas Festival in Dubai Media City's Amphitheatre. You can stroll around outside listening to Christmas carols and marvelling at the decorations including a giant Christmas tree. The Christmas Festival, hosted by the same people that bring you 'Taste of Dubai', includes markets, festive food stalls, live music, choir performances, cooking classes for all ages, a children's fun area and of course Santa's grotto. All of this plus you don't need to pile on layers of clothing? Sounds pretty good to me.

  • Further Christmas festivals are being hosted throughout the UAE; Al Bustan Rotana, Dubai have a Christmas village from Dec. 4th to Jan. 5th. Beach Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi are hosting a Swiss Christmas Market from 6th-8th Dec. Another alternative is the Madinat Jumeirah Souk Festive Market from Dec. 8th -26th.

  • You may be dreaming of a white Christmas (just like the one Mr. Crosby used to know) but why not embrace the UAE's fortunate weather and have a beach Christmas? The Aussies seem to cope with swimming and BBQ-ing throughout winter, so there's no reason it can't work for you too. 13th Dec. 1-5pm, Barasti, Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, Dubai are hosting a Christmas beach BBQ with a red and white fancy dress code, festivities include beach games, a bbq dinner, and some merry tunes. In Abu Dhabi, The Club are hosting their Christmas Family Beach Sports Day on the 8th Dec., 10 a.m at the beach-front.

  • If you've got little ones, what better place to take them at this time of year than to meet the big man himself; St. Clause! There are a few imposters hosting meet and greets throughout the UAE at this time of year, but we've received an insider tip that the real deal is at Wafi City Mall, Dubai in their winter wonderland. Alongside Santa's Tudor style grotto there are some fun Christmas workshops for the kids to learn how to make festive arts and crafts, Christmas movies on show, and the usual elaborately decorated giant Christmas tree.

  • If you just can't fathom a Christmas without cold weather and snow, there are fortunately some options to appease you. Dubai's Mall of the Emirates is home to the worlds largest indoor ski slope, with genuine real-life snow and the only indoor black run in the world. You can ski, snow board or just mess around in the snow a little bit. All the gear you'll need is rentable, and for an added festive bonus, SkiDubai is even home to penguins! (see If skiing or snowboarding isn't really your thing, but you still want to have a cold winter experience this year, maybe you can try Dubai Mall's ice skating rink instead (

  • Christmas is not just about presents for some, but about celebrating the birth of baby Jesus. For any Christian Christmas fans wanting to attend a church service, St. Francis of Assissi in Jebel Ali, Dubai is hosting a service on Christmas Eve from 5:30pm.

  • Finally, no Christmas festivities are complete without gathering the kids to yell “He's behind you!” at a colourfully dressed dimwit missing the common sense to turn around. The UAE have a few pantomimes on this festive season; 'The Wizard of Oz' is playing at the Madinat in Dubai from the 20th to the 31st December, whilst Abu Dhabi citizens can enjoy 'Cinderella' at The Club from the 11th to the 14th. Both Emirates are also showing performances of 'Santa Claus and the Christmas Adventure' on varying dates, for more info see



Forget peace on Earth and goodwill to men, the Christmas holidays are all about food. Christmas easily has some of the best holiday food going, it only takes one whiff of a mince pie or a sip of some mulled wine to get feeling Christmas-y. Advent calendars create an exciting build up to Christmas whilst giving you a daily dose of chocolate. You can also feel festive by getting hold of (or trying to cook) some Christmas classics, or alternatively treating yourself to one of the numerous Christmas buffets going on around the UAE on Christmas eve and Christmas day. Classics that you can try yourself or buy yourself include mince pies, Christmas cookies, candy canes, mulled wine and eggnog. For the adventurous, why not try tackling a full Christmas dinner and inviting all the friends and neighbours over instead of going out to the club or a hotel buffet? True there's more risk involved, but you'll feel the rewards of everyone gleefully tucking in to your tenderly prepared turkey, stuffing, potatoes etc., pulling Christmas crackers, wearing naff paper hats and telling awful jokes. (Top tip for cooking your turkey, courtesy of my whiz-kid chef sister, is to stuff butter under the turkey's skin.) And if it all goes wrong, or if you're worried about your culinary capabilities, you could host a Christmas party complete with a take-away turkey. There are a few hotels throughout the UAE offering delivery and pick-up cooked turkeys, for Abu Dhabi, check the Hilton, the Sheraton or the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri websites. For Dubai listings check the links below. You can always construct sandwiches with all the leftovers, which is sort of cooking.


Ok, so you've got a house smelling of mince pies, you've taken the kids to see Santa, and told the dimwit at the panto who's behind them, but the sand and heat still just isn't screaming “Christmas!”? You could try blasting the air-conditioning to create that cool winter feeling. Or, alternately have you considered decorating your house? Christmas is the time of year when you can plaster the place with tinsel, bells, baubles and fairy lights; go wild! This is one of the few times where it's socially acceptable to have gaudy decorations everywhere. Put a wreath on your front door, spray everything in fake snow, get the neighbours involved in decorating their places too, try and hold neighbourhood decoration competitions to rival these efforts in America; If you haven't got a Christmas tree yet, or can't source a real one in the UAE, why not buy a plastic one, or try decorating a palm tree instead? Decorating the house is a great way to get the kids involved in the build up to Christmas, and allows them to show off some of their artistic creativity. There are several places throughout the UAE where they can have a go at making their own decorations in workshops, such as the festivals and markets listed above. For inspiration, they can check out the different Christmas tree decorations from the Wafi City Mall, Oasis Centre, Madina Jumeirah and the Jumeirah Emirates Tower to name just a few.

Christmas Movies

Finally, one of the best ways to feel festive and get in that Christmas mood is to watch some seasonal Christmas movies. There is a huge selection of excellent Christmas movies from the classics to more modern day releases, from comedies to dramas to heart-warming feel good movies, all of which bring on that festive feeling and make you realise that those silly family feuds you have every Christmas are a universal thing. If there's nothing good out at the cinema this Christmas, have a go at watching some of these personal favourites:

  • The Santa Clause (+ sequels) – Tim Allen accidentally becomes Santa, has to come to grips with this transformation; hilarity ensues. A great movie for all ages.

  • The Nightmare Before Christmas – A spooky animation from Tim Burton about Jack Skellington who brings Christmas to Halloweentown, but gets it disastrously wrong.

  • Santa Clause: the Movie – Dudley Moore plays an elf (Patch) who rivals another elf to make Santa's top toy that year. A true classic.

  • Jingle All The Way – A more modern Christmas movie about forgetful Arnold Schwarzenegger's quest to find the only present his son wanted...on Christmas eve, the fool!

  • Miracle on 34th Street – A man claiming to be Santa is almost institutionalised until a lawyer and a little girl come to his rescue and try to prove that he's the real deal in this Christmas classic.

  • Elf – Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) is not like the other elves, he's considerably taller, and actually a human. This modern masterpiece of the Christmas comedy genre starts with Buddy's search for his true father but turns into a mission to save Christmas via some spaghetti and syrup.

  • A Christmas Carol – The Charles Dickens classic everyone knows, featuring Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge and the 3 ghosts of Christmas. There are numerous movie versions, but my favourite is either Patrick Stewart's (because...Patrick Stewart!) or for a comedy alternative 'Scrooged' with the amazing Bill Murray.

  • Home Alone (+ sequels) – Macaulay Culkin is left home alone, slaps his face with aftershave and protects the house from robbers. Enough said.

  • Die Hard – Ok, so it's not necessarily a Christmas movie content wise, but it takes place during a Christmas party, and that's good enough for me. Invite all the guys round and watch John McClane kick some terrorist be-hind in the best Christmas-but-not-really movie ever.

Hopefully the above has given you some ideas for how to get in the festive mood even if you are a fair distance from home, and the climate seems not quite right. Remember that Christmas is a time for peace, love and respect. Enjoy the holidays!


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