Some stick with the traditional, while others fly here for some sun.
Blue-sky thinking for Christmas
As Christmas morning dawned yesterday some families opted for a traditional celebration - open presents, go to church and enjoy a turkey feast - while others jetted in from thousands of miles away for exactly the opposite.
"Here, it is an ordinary day," said Efren Delacruz, from the Philippines, who travelled from Ajman to spend Christmas on the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
There was not much carol-singing. Not much tinsel, either. And for many Christians celebrating the holiday, family was far away.
"We would love to be at home, but we are working," said Samuel Eden, 46, an Abu Dhabi resident from India.
Many expatriates made their own Christmas spirit, cobbling together old and new traditions. "We invited 17 people for dinner," said Mascha Callele, 38, an artist from Holland who lives in Abu Dhabi. "We ordered an 8kg turkey. People who come will all bring something."
Instead of presents, Ms Callele and her husband decided to buy a plane ticket to the United States for their neighbour, an American, so she could celebrate at home.
"It's about the sharing and the love," Ms Callele said.
"It's about spending time at home," said Tayo, 35, with his wife Minella and baby girl. They planned to call relatives in the UK and continue a family tradition of watching feel-good Christmas films.
In Dubai, Edward and Rebecca de Courcy-Ireland added a stroll on the beach with their four children aged eight months to 13. "It's a mix of traditional Christmas and being here," said Mr de Courcy-Ireland, 43 and British.
Stewart O'Hara, 38, said it was harder to watch Christmas movies as he did back in the UK because fewer were shown on television here. He also missed the wintry weather he was used to at home.
Others, however, left their traditions behind at home and flew to Dubai to escape the chill.
Filgana Sabic, 58, from Sweden, decided against her usual church-and-turkey celebration with relatives in England and came with neighbours to take in the sea and a desert safari.
She had a tough year at work and wanted to unwind, she said, lying on a beach towel with a coffee.
“I told myself, ‘You deserve to relax, to get some energy from the sun’,” she said.
Many of the sunbathers stretched out alongside her had the same thought. Suki Somal, 48, left her husband and son in Britain and came for five days with her 17-year-old daughter Jaskaren to enjoy the warm weather. They would call the men that night after a Christmas dinner in the hotel, they said, relaxing under a parasol.
Others got a head start with the sumptuous afternoon-long brunches on offer across Dubai. Laurence Elbana, 36, sat down for a three-hour meal with his wife and mother, visiting from Cairo, in the back garden of the Ritz Carlton overlooking the sea. Surrounding them were turkey carving stations, oyster bars, kebabs on the grill, baskets of dim sum and a dessert stand with a Christmas tree made of green macaroons.
Around them, families wore tissue-paper crowns distributed by the hotel. Others carried big bags of gifts and Santa-shaped balloons. Carol singers in gold and white outfits harmonised on a stage.
A camel draped in a red blanket with gold trim loped up and down a walkway giving rides. Face-painting “elves” drew a gold butterfly on a girl, while other children played on an inflatable slide.
Eimear Newman, 26, flew in to Dubai from Ireland yesterday morning to visit relatives. They sat in a circle with plates of food as carols drifted in the background. “We’re here to eat, drink and be merry,” she said.
In Abu Dhabi, Perla Carmona, who works as a nanny, had a simpler day. At home in the Philippines, she would have spent Christmas in a room full of relatives and food. But yesterday, it was just her and a friend.
“We spend our Christmas in the mall, maybe,” said Ms Carmona, 40. “You know, we are very far from our families.”
She was all smiles, though. “The meaning of Christmas is sharing with other people, kindness and caring,” she said.
Expatriates were not the only ones embracing new customs. Sara Al Sayegh, an 18-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi, said she and her family had celebrated Christmas for years.
“We put up a Christmas tree for our Christian staff who work in the house,” she said. “We get them presents as something nice for them when they are so far from home. It has become a tradition.”
Ms Al Sayegh said celebrating Christmas was not much different from celebrating the New Year.
“Its a time that brings families and friends together, so why not?” she said. “In this busy era, we need as much family time as we can get.”
* Additional reporting by Ola Salem