In this mad place, the clashes of cultures still have the power to amaze, amuse and completely bamboozle. I took a walk through the shopping mall they call Wafi City the other day, a kind of loosely Egyptian-styled, sand-coloured monolith with stained-glass pyramids perched on top. Inside, high-fashion and high-tech shops mingle with high-fat fast food franchise outlets.
God, I miss the Subway foot-long meatball...
But the mall has now become a Christmas wonderland. Slap-bang in the middle of the central plaza, under one of the pyramids, is a giant Christmas tree, adorned with shiny baubles and twinkling lights. Around the bottom of the tree there are some white hoardings, with the words ELVES AT WORK painted on in various places. It seems that there will be a Grotto at the bottom of the tree, and they're going to have a big light-switching-on ceremony on Thursday. Dotted around other parts of the mall are other Christmas displays, such as small cottages with snow-covered rooves and pairs of red-trousered, black-booted legs sticking out of the chimney.
t is a strange feeling seeing all this. Firstly, it's 30 degrees centigrade and sunny outside. Secondly, this is a Muslim country. I've been in non-Christian countries around Christmas before, and knew that there would probably be a few trees here and there, and shops selling Christmassy stuff for the large Western expat population, but I never thought I'd see a mall in the Middle East trying to outdo the Metro Centre for sheer festive overload. It's confusing, really, because even here I get told that Christmas is being banned in the UK because of PC do-gooders, etc., but we are looking at a 40-foot-high symbol of a Christian festival, and the dish-dashed men and their abbaya-wearing wives don't bat an eyelid. You have to wonder what the Sun or the Mail would make of some Ramadan decorations being put up in the Trafford Centre. Probably best not to think about it, to be honest.
Then I think...does this show Christmas up for what it really is today? It isn't much of a religious festival nowadays. All the paraphenalia in the malls and in the shops are based around trees, lights, baubles, snowy scenes, stockings, candy canes, toys, presents, and consumerism gone mad. In that respect, it fits Dubai like a glove. More chances to spend, spend, spend. You can buy nativity scenes in the shops if you so wish, but there doesn't seem to be much of a market for them. I think it's fair to say that this is the case in the UK as well. The religious aspect of Christmas is a side-show to most people, and maybe that's why it's so easily accepted and assimilated around the world now, because it can be celebrated without mentioning Jesus at all.
It's only 4 weeks away now. It doesn't feel right. We went to the beach at the Jumeirah Beach Park on Saturday, and enjoyed the warm sunshine, yellow sand (although it was sadly full of fag-ends and other rubbish) and clear Gulf waters. We have promised the kids a visit to Ski Dubai before or around Christmas, and we'll have a snowball fight and do some sledging, then have some fondue and mulled wine in the alpine-styled restaurant afterwards. On Christmas Day itself we might have dinner in a hotel or at a golf club. We will miss our extended family, but with the visits from them due to start in February, it won't be too bad. Whatever happens, our first Christmas in a warm country will be an adventure.
That reminds me, we need to go and buy a tree...I see they have them in IKEA. AARRGGHH!!!!