ABU DHABI // The official National Day ceremony showcased the UAE's history and achievements to the delight of thousands of fans who packed the Zayed Sports City stadium.
Although the official ceremony was not scheduled to start until 5pm, thousands of waiting spectators were kept busy from 3pm with endless military and police shows.
People stood in lines before doors opened at 2pm, eager to be among the first to enter the Zayed Sports City stadium where they were promised an unforgettable night beside all the seven rulers of the Emirates.
At 3.30pm the stadium was already half packed. Children sat with their parents waving UAE flags as shows commenced on stage. While boys wore wigs and hats covered in the national colours, girls wore UAE scarfs and decorated abayas.
First on stage was a military music orchestra, including both males and females, all moving in synchrony. A live police dog show followed with a demonstration of how dogs have been trained to attack.
Umm Mohamed, who had the UAE flag painted on her cheek, said she stood with her family from 2pm at the door to be let in.
“It was so busy in the morning, we had to go from gate to gate,” she said. “I cannot even begin to describe to you the feeling. We have already given our children background of the events and the union, and they are living the experience with us.”
Umm, who is from the Al Reyamli family, arrived with Al Hamli, and the Al Qubaisi families, each originally from different emirates but who today sat together.
“We are all one family,” she said.
Over a thousand Emirati volunteers from Takatof, schools and universities, stood around the stage for crowd control and to show people to their seats. Government officials from every sector were also present.
Although many of them were working, the police orchestra and the crowd cheers could not hold them back from joining in the festivities.
“This is a day for every Emirati to enjoy,” one volunteer said.
At 4.55pm, a voice amplified from the stage.
“We are now waiting for the arrival of His Highness, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, president of the UAE, to witness this events to celebrate the UAE’s 40th birthday.”
The crowds broke in cheers in the mention of the president’s name for the next five minutes until the president took his seat on the stand, next to other rulers, and the crown princes.
At 5pm, the celebrations began with the national anthem. Over 40,000 people seated in the stand stood to sing the anthem and to wave their flags up high.
At that moment, three helicopters, the first carrying the UAE flag, the second the armed forces flag, and the third carrying the Ministry of Interior seal flag, flew overhead.
They were followed by fighter planes, sounds of which left the stadium silent.
The military parade then started, with hundreds of men in uniform walking in synchrony, to be greeted by standing crowds.
After 15 minutes, the ministry of interior officials took the oath to the country, and to the president. Their voices echoed in the stadium.
Fighter planes flew overhead again as soon as they completed the oath, which filled the crowd with pride, causing them to wave their flags high.
A flag parade followed with people dressed in the four colours of the flag carrying a large flag. They gathered to formulate the number 40.
And as the sun started to set at 5.30pm, the 1,696 lighting fixtures were turned on - all designed by world touring productions for Katy Perry and Alicia Keys.
“This is like a dream come true,” Somaiyah Badowah, a member of the national day committee, said, adding that preparations for the event started since before Ramadan.
“It was great to see how dedicated people were for this show,” she said. “It is great to see it all coming together, everyone was dedicated to make sure that the show is perfection, and today, it is more than perfect. I feel like I want to cry today.”
She said that although national day has always been celebrated, this year they wanted a spectacular event.
“Because it is the 40th year,” she said.