x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Personal forms of celebration, traditional and via Twitter

National Day celebrations in Emirati homes, while different from the public events, share the same happiness and confidence.

On December 2 of every year, a familiar scene unfolds on the streets of the UAE. Thousands of cars - decorated with the UAE flag, pictures of late Sheikh Zayed and the rulers of the emirates, words of poetry, stickers, even teddy bears strapped to car hoods - rally on the main streets. Things are often uproarious as young men spray paint, foam and silly string out of car windows, running between vehicles and dancing in the streets.

But what we see outside is only one piece of what happens on the second day of December. Emiratis do more than decorate cars to mark National Day. We celebrate in many ways, and some of our celebrations are evolving nearly as fast as the nation itself.

There are, of course, the traditional activities that ring in another year as a country. My family marks National Day by gathering together, sometimes inside the house and sometimes outdoors (if the weather cooperates). It is a chance for our extended family to all be in the same place, to catch up and to share a meal.

We often have family gatherings throughout the year, but what makes this one unique is the "spirit of the union" that is reflected in our clothes, our food and in the family's activities.

Last year, we hosted a celebratory event at our house and invited our relatives and friends. Everyone was wearing the colours of the UAE flag, and cakes and cookies with the same colours were served along with traditional Emirati food.

We also arranged some activities for our guests: face-painting, games and contests. There were puzzles organised testing contestants' knowledge of the UAE and its history. The winners received prizes, but everyone had fun.

Such celebrations bring happiness especially to the young children in our family who look forward to this day, not only to have the UAE flag painted on their cheeks, but also to take part in the activities and learn new things about the place in which they were born. This year, we're continuing the tradition by celebrating at my aunt's house.

But for me, some of the most exciting ways we celebrate are the more innovative initiatives taking place on social media.

Last year for the 40th anniversary of the country, one such initiative began with a tweet. "I hope we raise the UAE flag on top of every house," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted on the first day of November last year. Hasan Al Mazrouei, a young Emirati (to whom, incidentally, I'm not related) was inspired by the tweet and launched a social media campaign, turning the vision of Sheikh Abdullah into reality. The campaign was soon widely known by its name "Fog Baitna Alam", or "A Flag Above Our House".

Mr Al Mazrouei created a Twitter account to encourage citizens and residents to raise the UAE flag over their homes. Twitter users began posting pictures of their own flags as more and more people started to take part in the campaign.

So Mr Al Mazrouei took it a step further, creating a website on which people could share photos of their homes and patriotic displays. The whole society got involved. Emiratis and people of other nationalities joined the campaign by raising their own flags. Many were also raised at people's workplaces. At my house, we were one of many families to have a gigantic flag on the roof.

And so the campaign that was started by a tweet became an annual event, and a new way for Emiratis and residents of the UAE to express their love for the country.

This year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has asked citizens to plant trees at their homes and at their workplaces. He planted one and called it the "Union Tree", also using Twitter to ask citizens to do the same and to take care of the new additions - just as they take care of the country. Many people have pledged on Twitter to make it happen and so another campaign called "One Home, One Tree" has begun.

These are only two social media examples, but they show a bond between the people of the UAE and their leadership, which can be seen online and in everyday society. Who knows how we'll celebrate next year, or what the next 41 years will bring to the UAE? But one thing I'm certain of - our future will be as innovative and progressive as the UAE itself.



On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui