Merry Christmas / Glædelig Jul / عيد ميلاد مَجيد ❄
This year, I celebrated a traditional English and Danish Christmas… in the United Arab Emirates. While it sounds like a total mess of cultures, it turned out to be a Christmas filled with family-time, trying new foods, learning new traditions, and of course a visit (or two!) from Santa Claus.
Growing up, I always celebrated a very English Christmas. When we moved to Dubai, we kept the majority of our traditions the same and added in a few new things to do on Christmas day, like going to the pool or having a BBQ. For this Christmas, however, we had my brother, sister-in-law, and niece come to visit from Denmark. Therefore, we got to incorporate 3 different cultures into our celebrations.
So, here are my favourite moments and traditions from our three-day festivities!
Danish Christmas Dinner
Traditional Danish Christmas Dinner consists of Roast Duck / Pork, caramelised potatoes, pickled red cabbage, and gravy. Being a primarily vegan household, we recreated all of these traditional dishes using plant-based alternatives.
Pakkeleg is a fun Christmas game in which everyone has to bring 3 little presents – something to wear, something tacky, and something nice. All of the presents are then placed in the middle of the table and each person takes their turn to roll a dice. When you roll a six, you take a present for yourself. After all of the presents have been taken from the middle, the second round begins. In the second round, someone puts on a timer and every six rolled allows the player to ‘steal’ a present from another person. When the timer goes off, the presents are unwrapped.
Although this is the easiest version of pakkeleg, there are additional rules that you may choose to adopt. For example, one present can be chosen at the beginning so that every time a 2 is rolled, this present is handed to the player. Also, every time a 4 is rolled, all of the present piles are passed round to the left.
Risalamande is a Danish Christmas dessert and game all-in-one. The dessert is basically rice pudding mixed with whipped cream and vanilla, served cold with a warm cherry sauce. Mixed into the dessert is a single whole almond (and sometimes some chopped almonds). The aim of the game is to keep eating bowls and bowls of risalamande until one lucky player finds the almond and wins a prize!
Dancing around the Juletræ
Another exciting Christmas tradition is dancing around the Juletræ / Christmas tree. The tree is moved into the centre of the room, all of the family hold hands and dance around the tree whilst singing Christmas songs (usually in Danish, but we chose to sing English songs since some of us are new to all of this!).
Visit from Julemanden & Presents
After the dancing has come to an end, we all must listen out for the doorbell as Julemanden (Father Christmas) is due to visit. However, when we open the door, all that we find is a little pile of presents from Father Christmas, who has quickly flown away on his sleigh to deliver presents to everyone else! After this exciting event, all of the presents are opened.
Stockings & Presents
Early in the morning, we all wake up to open our stockings which are filled with little gifts from Santa. After this, we all go downstairs to open all the presents in our Christmas sacks. Once the floor is appropriately covered in wrapping paper, we move on to the presents under the tree which are from family members – siblings, aunties and uncles, etc.
English Christmas Dinner
Once all the presents are opened, we have a few hours to ourselves whilst the cooking happens. Our Christmas Dinner usually happens super early, at around 3pm, and consists of the typical roast, with some kind of vegan ‘meat’, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, vegetables (unfortunately, including brussel sprouts), and gravy.
Christmas Movie & Games
After Christmas dinner, we all sit down to watch a Christmas movie and then we play a load of games, often including games we have received as presents. This year, we watched an absolute Christmas classic ‘Love Actually’ and played games like ‘Catan’ and card games. It was the perfect end to a lovely Christmas.
DECEMBER 26th / DECEMBER 27th
Dubai Shopping Festival (Boxing Day Sales)
Although Dubai doesn’t really have a huge concept of ‘Boxing Day’, the Dubai Shopping Festival starts on Dec 26th and has some crazy sales. So, of course, we went to the Mall of the Emirates for a bit of post-Christmas shopping. Just being in the mall was amazing, the Christmas decorations in the UAE follow the trend of ‘bigger is better’ so they really go all out.
In true Dubai style, we also decided to do a Friday brunch (which actually fell on Dec 27th). We visited the Sheraton Hotel in Jumeriah Beach Residences and feasted on unlimited food from a range of cuisines, enjoyed bottomless drinks, and watched the live entertainment. Not traditionally English, but a fun Christmas celebration nevertheless.
So, my Christmas was full of fun and festivities! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about all the different traditions and activities I’ve celebrated and that you had some exciting celebrations of your own! To all of you who didn’t celebrate, I hope you are enjoying your winter break.