ABU DHABI // With National Day just four days away, plans for celebrating the 38th anniversary of the founding of the UAE are well under way, and every year the market for local memorabilia increases. For people looking to join the festivities in colourful style, there is a bewildering array of red, white and green merchandise on offer in shops and malls to suit just about every taste and budget. From scarves and feather boas to car decorations, there is something for almost everyone. The cheapest trinkets are buttons at around Dh5, while at the top end prices are many times higher. This year, merchants have more products than ever and say demand keeps rising. And even the most patriotic of customers do not seem to be put off by the fact that most of the wares are made in China - not the UAE or elsewhere in the Middle East. In fact, there is little Arabic lettering on any of the paraphernalia.
Kamrun Hasan, a worker at a stall in Abu Dhabi's Madinat Zayed mall, said the accumulation of merchandise begins more than a month in advance of the December 2 holiday, and grows more elaborate each year. Almost a week before National Day, Mr Hasan said, he was starting to run short of paper decorations, streamers, coloured boas, hats and headscarves. "The stock is finished in Dubai," he lamented, while wearing a felt top hat with the letters "UAE" along the side.
Every year, he said, the merchandise available became more creative and varied, and so did the public appetite for such items. A sequinned tie attached by a rubber band, feathered masks, wigs and coloured angel wings, artfully dyed to match the country's flag, are among the items found at Mr Hasan's stall. Zakariya Mohammed, another worker at the stand, said that in his experience Emiratis tended to go all-out during National Day. "Especially in Abu Dhabi. They only really celebrate this one day, so they celebrate it big."
Shopkeepers said Emiratis were the most reliable customers, although some expatriates often get into the spirit of the season as well. Particularly popular this year are scarves, bangles and jewellery, as well as traditional dresses in the UAE flag's colours for young girls. National Day will be celebrated in high Emirati fashion across the country. The largest shows are typically put on in Abu Dhabi, whose streets reach gridlock for hours on end as locals with decorated cars take to the road to blare their horns in an impromptu procession along the Corniche.
Masood al Jnabi, 22, from Abu Dhabi, said he would be spending Dh1,500 (US$408) decorating his Toyota for the night. The business and computer student expects to pile his friends into his car to cruise the Corniche and is hoping to stand out in the crowd. Sousan Ahmed, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, bought a knitted scarf emblazoned with the image of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, from a stall selling sequinned and fluffy canes, coloured wigs and patriotic prayer beads.
"It's for my daughter, actually," she said, adding that the 14-year-old would wind the scarf around her shoulders as her family took to the Corniche. "Especially this year, there is too much excitement. Look at the souq: everything is red and green and black." She said her family most looked forward to the fireworks. About 60 events are being planned across all seven emirates this year to mark National Day.
It's not just individuals who get dressed up, however. Government buildings, streets and hotels will follow tradition and be strung with fairy lights and illuminated designs. The Emirates Palace hotel is planning to light up the sky with a laser show beginning on Wednesday for one week, from sunset to midnight. The hotel also announced it would attempt the world's largest pyrotechnics display on National Day, with some fireworks soaring up to 2,000 metres high. The goal is to be included in the Guinness Book of Records.