x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

In celebration of a new year and stronger ties

With New Year's Day being a public holiday in the UAE, there is more incentive to celebrate on New Year's Eve and it offers a great opportunity for expatriates and citizens to mingle

Having celebrated the turning of a new year for the UAE on December 2, the country's attention is now captured by the Gregorian calendar's switch from 2012 to 2013.

Although originally a western holiday, the occasion has been embraced globally due to the adoption of the solar calendar by most countries as their civil calendar - the UAE is no exception.

Traditionally, Arab Muslims follow the Hijri Islamic calendar celebrating the lunar calendar's first day, which fell on November 15 last year, rather than its western equivalent.

While the Islamic New Year holiday is usually a more subdued event, with Emiratis tending to spend time reconnecting with family, reflecting on the year that has past and thinking about the year ahead, the western alternative is increasingly used as another reason to celebrate.

This is made easier with the Gregorian New Year's Day being a public holiday in the UAE, which is perfectly understandable considering more than 80 per cent of the population consisting of expatriates. Further incentive can be found in the nation's numerous New Year's Eve events that were on offer.

You would have been hard pressed to find a hotel or restaurant in the country that did not hold a special function or banquet for the day.

Countless international artists flocked to the UAE to showcase their talents, including Snoop Dogg, Faithless and Armand Van Helden from the west and Omar Khairat, Shams and Waleed Al Shami from the Middle East.

Fireworks lit up the sky at midnight throughout the seven emirates; the biggest spectacle took place at Burj Khalifa in Dubai and an estimated one million visitors descended from around the world.

With so many people in transit, inevitable traffic jams ensued, which may have annoyed some but were enticing opportunities for the many who enjoy car parading.

In an effort to ease congestion on the roads, Dubai took the unprecedented step of running the Metro 24/7 and increasing the frequency of trains from midnight to 8am, thereby encouraging people to leave their cars at home and use the transit system to get around town.

With so many events on offer in the country this New Year's Eve and the authorities facilitating smoother travel, it is little wonder that more Emiratis are adopting this holiday as their own.

Some feel that the popularity of this foreign event is another way by which Emiratis are pulled away from their traditions, which threatens their Emirati identity.

But citizens' involvement in these joyous moments can be viewed as an opportunity to unite Emiratis with the rest of the UAE's diverse population.

New Year's in the UAE is not only an instance where Emiratis and expatriates alike can enjoy a special night out, but also has become an instrument that fosters harmony among the UAE communities.

 

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US

 

tsubaihi@thenational.ae