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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Why days like Halloween are special in expat hubs like the UAE

Languages and faiths aside, social events like Halloween provide us all with opportunities to celebrate the things we often take for granted

A Halloween family event at Yas Waterworld a few years ago Photo: Mona Al Marzooqi / The National 
A Halloween family event at Yas Waterworld a few years ago Photo: Mona Al Marzooqi / The National 

I am writing this week’s column with a spider over my left shoulder. OK, it is a fake one stuck to a wall but as an arachnophobe I have to admit it still makes me a tad jittery.

But despite my fears of the eight-legged kind, I have learnt to accept, and ultimately enjoy, the festive spirit surrounding Halloween.

Our workplace, like many others in the capital, got its spook on for the annual celebration, and so the newsroom was festooned with fake spiders’ webs, dark glitter and witches hats.

Having come to the UAE from Australia several years ago, Halloween is just one of the many celebrations I have learnt to embrace. All year round, the cosmopolitan nature of Abu Dhabi often sees my personal calendar fill up with invites to various cultural celebrations, including private house parties, full-blown gala affairs and the like. These events are a great way to meet people.

The first celebration I attended was a few months into my arrival in the capital. It was Colombian National Day and just as I was getting my bearings on my new home I found myself on the dance floor. I was a mess of flaying hips and hunched shoulders as I tried to dance what I thought was the salsa. Suffice to say I didn’t venture onto the dance floor again after that, you’d find me in less demanding environments that involved buffets, it was on the sidelines of the elaborate food affairs the I met many interesting people.

There was that Dominican businessman I met during his country’s national celebration concert at Emirates Palace. Despite being far from his home, I recall him expressing how the family-friendly nature of Abu Dhabi was similar to life on the island.

I also recall sitting down to a Thanksgiving Dinner my friend had cooked up at her villa in Al Mushrif, it was quite the reflective occasion. Aside from the big juicy turkey and the party atmosphere, the hostess ensured that no one went home without letting the group know what they were grateful for. I was grateful for my faith, health, family and great colleagues, and when I left I was surprised by how soothing the whole affair had been.

That’s the beauty of such gatherings and celebrations. As well as providing an insight into a different culture, a lot of the time it re-emphasises how similar we all are. Languages and faiths aside, social events like Halloween provide us all with opportunities to all celebrate the things we often take for granted such as our family and friends – even if there is a spider or two involved.

Looking ahead, I have a full schedule. Next week, I am booked up for a feast to celebrate another celebration. The Hindu festival of lights that is Diwali will be another gathering of friends sharing delicious grub.

Seeing the faces of the friends I have amassed over the years – not to mention the new ones I am sure to meet – act as yet another opportunity to be grateful that Abu Dhabi is my home.

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Read more from Saeed:

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Abu Dhabi has established itself as a cultural capital of the world

Everyone should help when it comes to mental health

How the UAE's new national orchestra can future-proof itself

Newfound peace in Eritrea is a source of optimism for many Abu Dhabi residents

Are personality tests just a confusing, reductive load of quack?

The discriminating job advert got me thinking

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