ABU DHABI // While other parts of the country dealt with rain, it was good, dry fun at early National Day celebrations on the Corniche yesterday.
The accent was on family enjoyment as stilt walkers - dressed top to toe in red, green, white and black - handed out balloon animals, juggled and danced along the seafront, as face painters busily plied their trade nearby.
"We just came for [daughter] Lojaine for a half-hour but found the atmosphere was so nice," said Mohamed Nagib, from the UK, who was there with his wife Hoda.
The way the country comes together to celebrate National Day is a unique spectacle, the couple said.
"It's fantastic. It's a very good event to remind people of the importance of unity," Mohamed said.
A makeshift souq faced the main stage where a host of events took place until late into the evening.
While families and groups of friends milled around, children raced to the stage for the first act - Matthew, a British magician.
Walking on to an instrumental version of the 1980s classic, The Final Countdown, he had the youngsters enthralled from the start.
Nearby, three Emirati students from Zayed University set up their video camera for a class project.
"We are interviewing people, asking them questions about why they are proud of being Emirati as well as what the UAE means to them. This is the perfect event," said Muneera Zayed, 22, a multimedia and design student.
When asked the question themselves, the answers come quickly.
"It's the way we celebrate," Mun-eera said. "It shows how we celebrate the UAE."
Hosted by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the event also runs all day today and tomorrow.
For Balqees Mohammed, 20, the effort that goes into celebrating the anniversary reflects well on the country's local citizens.
"Everyone is proud to be Emirati and proud to represent their country," Ms Mohammed said.
As each year passes and the celebrations grow bigger, it is also a way to commemorate how smoothly the country has progressed from its early days, the student said.
As the sun began to set, the crowd continued to swell. The stilt walkers, surrounded by children and adults alike, continued to pose for photos - many choosing to make the universal sign for peace while the cameras flashed around them.
Other attractions included bracelet making, arts and crafts areas where children painted their versions of the UAE flag, and a mound of sand that began to take on the shape of the founding leaders' faces by the end of the day.
Watching the performers dance to the music blaring out from various points around the Corniche, Abdul Samad, from Bangladesh, said he had been observing and enjoying National Day events for the past 13 years.
Abdul, a driver for a local restaurant who wore a UAE scarf, said he enjoyed the way the event brought everyone together for a few days.
Standing close by, the Constantinou family, who have lived in the UAE since 1992, shared much the same thought.
"We'll stay for two or three hours," said Helen Constantinou, whose seven-year-old twins played nearby.
"The whole country really comes together as a nation and unites."