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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Expatriates gather at Abu Dhabi church to share in Christmas cheer

The party, organised by St Joseph Cathedral, give expatriates living alone a place to eat Christmas dinner, sing carols and feel merry among others who may be in the same situation

Expatriates gather at the car park Christmas party at St Joseph Cathedral in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Expatriates gather at the car park Christmas party at St Joseph Cathedral in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Chris Whiteoak / The National

An underground car park beneath the St Joseph Cathedral was converted into a festive hall on Monday where thousands of Christians from around Abu Dhabi gathered to celebrate Christmas Day.

The car park Christmas party was recently revived after a short hiatus to give expatriates living alone and far from their families a place to eat Christmas dinner, sing carols and feel merry among others who may be in the same situation.

“When you’re away from your families, it is really difficult, so this is what the parish has thought of because of this at least they can feel — especially for those who have no family here, who are alone — they can feel that they are welcome,” said Elna Timtim, a Filipina church volunteer who acted as emcee for the event.

“They can feel that they are at home. You can see all the nationalities are huddled together, even the non-Christians, if they want to come, they are all welcome.”

Organisers from the St Joseph Cathedral and the Legion of Mary said at least 6,000 people were expected to attend the underground celebrations, which ran from noon until 10pm.

Anyone who showed up was offered a plate to take to a buffet of traditional home-cooked meals from the Philippines, East Africa, India and the UK. Strangers ate meals together and applauded live entertainment from a stage where Indians, Africans and Filipinos took turns performing their favourite traditional or Christmas hometown song or dance.

“It is to bring joy to the people,” said Father Kavukanmakal Johnson, a Keralite. “There are many who are lonely and there are many who have no family here and this is an occasion where the parish is offering a chance for everyone to be happy.”

One of the loudest cheers erupted for a Muslim American teenager who took the stage to sing “Rock Around the Christmas Tree.” Her performance was so well-received, the audience demanded an encore, for which she sang “For the First Time in Forever.”

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Read more:

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The singer, Farah Hussaini, 16, said she was invited to the open house by her family’s employee, Filipina Salve Ortiguera.

“This is so fun, this is so big, this is so energised. I love it. I love the environment here,” Farrah said following her performances. “It’s so lovely and festive. Everybody is all dressed up in all the red, we’ve got some Santa hats going on. It’s Christmas Day, we’re singing some festive songs, there are Christmas trees everywhere. I love it.”

Scholastica Al Barwawi, a Nigerian who has lived in the UAE for 39 years and helped organise part of the buffet, said the multicultural celebration was emblematic of all that is good in the UAE.

“I call it the United Nation,” said Ms Al Barwawi of the Emirates. “When I first came here, I said this is a United Nations country. They say, why? I said, where else would you get all of these nationalities living harmoniously? It is a beautiful country. The only thing I would say is God bless. God bless United Arab Emirates and God bless my country, too.”