x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Season's admirable themes lost in consumerism

The commercialisation of Christmas in America is being transported to the UAE.

The many Christmas holidays I spent in the United States brought with them times of joy as well as sadness. The joy resulted from having time off of school and/or work, which was spent in the enjoyable company of good friends.

These friends, their families and people in general seemed kinder, gentler and more giving during the festive season, unconditionally offering smiles as well as seats at their Christmas dinner tables.

Although I found solace spending the holidays among friends in similar situations, it was always difficult to be half the world away from family during times of celebration meant to bring them together.

Equally as distressing was witnessing the commercialisation of Christmas in America.

Each subsequent year, I observed the American media and retail industries advertise Christmas earlier and with more fervour as a time to spend, spend and spend some more. The more profound message of family, community and charity seemed to be lost on the majority who focused on decoration and gift hunting.

Increasingly, Christmas seemed to me a hollow shell veneered in consumerism and my appetite for the occasion diminished.

Although I missed many things when I left the US, commercial Christmas was not one of them.

But to my surprise, it had been transported to the UAE.

Almost every mall I visit this time of year includes Christmas decorations, advertisements and a Christmas corner with your quintessential Santa Claus.

The growing popularity of Christmas in the UAE seems evident by the presence of an army of Santas in the malls and UAE hotels charging up to 25 per cent more for their turkey dinners. Christmas lights and trees adorn almost every hotel as well as every mall in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Now, I understand we live in a country with expatriates making up approximately 80 per cent of the population and many of those celebrate Christmas.

In fact, I am happy to have come back to a tolerant country where people from different faiths can peacefully practise their respective beliefs, where people following different religions are respected by all and live in a harmonious and safe environment free from sectarianism, where one can learn about the traditions and beliefs of their neighbours and co-workers in a comfortable and secure setting.

What concerns me is the encroachment of the commercial Christmas, which I believed I had left behind.

The idea that we become a society that plays into the industrial idea of this holiday exclusively being about setting up decorations and spending more money on gifts, lights and prepared turkey dinners is worrying.

The central Christmas themes of sharing, giving and unity are admirable and shared by most faiths of the world. These are the ideas that should be spread and received by members of the UAE encouraging and fostering understanding in an already harmonious society.

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