Whether it was walking on the beach wearing a red Santa hat, eating turkey with all the trimmings at a hotel brunch or bundling up in the chilly confines of Ski Dubai, people all over the country were celebrating Christmas in their own ways yesterday. Churches were overflowing as people gathered at services, and shopping malls enjoyed brisk business. Christians gathered in their hundreds at the capital's three churches St Andrew's, St Joseph's and Evangelical Community and sang beloved carols.
Rebekka Rigby, a five-year-old from the UK who was wearing one of her Christmas presents, a navy-blue dress, was among 350 people who filled the pews for a family service at St Andrew's led by the Rev Clive Windebank. Rebekka's mother. Rachael, 40, said, "When you have young children it's important for them to understand about the religious aspect of the holiday. We don't just want it all to be about presents."
Around the Rigby family were worshippers from all over the world including India, Lebanon, Syria, Denmark and the Philippines. Services, which started at the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches from 8am, continued throughout the day to allow time for around 80 Christian denominations to celebrate the holiday. Clergymen at St Joseph's Cathedral had organised a timetable for the many masses to take place. There were two English services, one inside the chapel and one outside in the courtyard, where worshippers sat on plastic chairs and listened to carols sung by the choir.
The day continued with services in French, German, Tamil, Arabic, Malayalam, Polish, Spanish, Urdu and Filipino. In the afternoon the church hosted an open house. Anyone celebrating Christmas alone was invited for a free meal and singing and dancing. Maribel Moratillo of the Legion of Mary, organisers of the open house, said it has been a difficult year in the Philippines, where two typhoons and a volcano have inflicted significant damage.
"As the father said during his sermon it is important to remember it is about light and shadow," she said. "With shadow comes the light of the world." The food, a selection of Indian and Filipino curries, rice and bread, was distributed to around 3,000 people throughout the afternoon. Frank Sadiq, 38, an aluminium worker from Pakistan who is here without his family, said he was very grateful to the church for putting this event together. "Christmas is a beautiful time and I enjoy it even more now that I can share it with others," he said.
In Dubai, thousands attended church services, starting from 6am. So many turned up at St Mary's Church, the congregation overflowed outside from the 1,700-seat church into a basketball court and football field. Secular celebrations in the city were centred around hotels, restaurants and malls. Because Christmas fell on the weekend, the traditional Friday brunches, which have been fully booked for weeks, gathered momentum throughout the day.
At Al Qasr Hotel, families stopped to take pictures near the massive glittering Christmas tree in the lobby before heading downstairs to the three restaurants to enjoy an extravagant buffet brunch. It was a scene repeated across some of Dubai's favourite outlets, like the Marina Yacht Club, the Ritz-Carlton and Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Others preferred to have their Christmas feast brought to them. Adam Stevens, 40, from the UK, ordered his turkey from Emirates Towers hotel. "I've invited a few friends round for Christmas lunch," he said. "Rather than pay several hundred each to go to the overpriced brunches, we paid Dh500 for a meal for six people. Not a bad deal in these credit-crunching times."
Those searching for a white Christmas flocked to the Mall of the Emirates to hit the slopes at Ski Dubai. Similarly, the ice-skating rink at Dubai Mall welcomed scores of well-bundled people, many of whom enjoyed a few spins before hitting the shops and food courts or heading off for Christmas lunches or dinners. It was a festive day for Christians around the world. In Australia, one of the first places in the world to welcome in Christmas, crowds celebrated on Bondi Beach, in Sydney, and picnicked at Melbourne's Queen Victoria Gardens.
In the Philippines, 47,000 evacuated people were forced to celebrate Christmas in temporary shelters after the Mayon volcano erupted. They were not bereft of Christmas cheer: they ate food supplied by the government and opened donated gifts. In Bethlehem, the West Bank city where tradition says Jesus was born, thousands of pilgrims celebrated Christmas at the Church of the Nativity. During her annual Christmas message from the White Drawing Room in Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth II recognised the service of the 13,000 Commonwealth soldiers from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore who were serving in Afghanistan. Soldiers took a break from their duties to sing Christmas carols at their camps.
In the United States, a severe winter storm forced scores of churches to cancel Christmas Eve services as blizzards and freezing rain brought treacherous holiday travel conditions. President Barack Obama, escaping the big freeze, began a family holiday in his native state of Hawaii. email@example.com