How thousands gather to sing Christmas carols in the Abu Dhabi desert each year
Dashing through the dunes...
It started in 2006, when South African expats John and Hanneke Wilson decided to get family and friends together in the Abu Dhabi desert to sing Christmas carols in unison.
This was such a hit, that Carols by Candlelight in the Desert is now an annual Abu Dhabi event, with attendance doubling year-on-year. (They estimate that about 1,000 people turned up in 2011, and the event is only growing.)
The event is put together by the couple and their family with the assistance of St Andrew's Church and its members. Volunteers help to set up the parking, manage the BBQ fires and serve hot chocolates to carolers. The afternoon is a relaxed one, and the singing really takes off as the moon rises.
"The main focus is bringing families together to experience not only the Christmas spirit, but also to introduce people to the beauty of the desert," say the Wilsons of the event.
This year could be an extra special Carols by Candlelight considering 2019 is the UAE's Year of Tolerance: which has seen a historic visit from Pope Francis, who celebrated Mass for 180,000 people, as well as the announcement that an Abrahamic House – a mosque, church and synagogue in one setting – will be built on Saadiyat Island.
Earlier this year, Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson of St Andrew's Church spoke to us about the Year of Tolerance and religious diversity in the UAE: “We know there is some intolerance that comes out of the Middle East, but I'd like to challenge that stereotype, being a Christian leader in the Middle East, and say that Christians are not persecuted in the United Arab Emirates. In fact, quite the opposite.”
Carols by Candlelight in the Desert runs from 4pm onwards on Friday, December 6. The communal barbecue is lit at 5pm, and the event is completely free of charge. You can camp over, whic his also free, and a 4x4 is not required. There's also a dedicated number for those with queries about the event (050 827 1604).
To find the exact location of the event, put these coordinates into Google maps: 24.40759N, 54.96457E. You can also volunteer to help out at the event by filling in the form at this link.
Updated: November 28, 2019 12:15 PM