x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

National Day rewind: Northern Emirates join in the patriotic part

Increased media coverage and better roads sees rural areas of UAE open up to National Day celebrations.

Traditional sword dancers perform for the crowds during the 2009 National Day celebrations on the Ras Al Khaimah Corniche. Nicole Hill / The National
Traditional sword dancers perform for the crowds during the 2009 National Day celebrations on the Ras Al Khaimah Corniche. Nicole Hill / The National

RAS AL KHAIMAH // From the coast to the mountains, the Northern Emirates prepared for weeks for National Day.

During the build-up to December 2, young men from the village of Galilah hiked to the top of the mountains surrounding their village and hung shining flags from the top of each brown peak.

In the seaside villages below, flags and scarves are hung on every post and young men have spent weeks working through the midday heat, their kanduras hitched over their knees, to dig holes for the flag poles that celebrate national unity.

As the men worked, young women drove around handing out sweets wrapped in UAE colours to their friends in small incense burners and coffee cups.

In villages across the Northern Emirates, the tradition of National Day has taken hold.

Bigger celebrations are possible thanks to the new mountain roads that have brought these communities together.

In Waib Al Hanna, Mohammed Ahmed, 15, and his teenage friends gather outside a grocery store, setting off firecrackers for National Day.

This tiny mountain village was completely isolated until a motorway connected it with the rest of the UAE a few years ago.

Now, its houses are covered in UAE flags and boys chatter excitedly about the forthcoming celebrations.

"We'll be dancing all over," laughs Mohammed, miming the traditional yolla dance. "It's getting bigger and bigger every year."

Many villages in this part of the country are involved with a five-day festival in Dibba Al Fujairah that features a poetry competition, traditional dancing and its own parade of beeping cars and messy confetti. But some have chosen quieter traditions.

"For National Day, we go with the guys to the mountains, set up a tent, make a grill and we'll sleep in the tent," says Ali Hassan, a 22-year-old policeman from Dibba Al Fujairah.

National Day has become such an event for small communities that celebrations will often last for days as people travel to the cities to take part in huge parades on December 2, but perform their own competitions and celebrations in the days before and after.

"National Day is growing and it's busy now because of TV and radio," says Mr Hassan. "Now, more people know about our traditions. National Day really brings us together."

Ali Al Shehhi, 20, a student from Sha'am, Ras Al Khaimah, says: "They prepare for it weeks before, especially this year and last year.

"It's an important day for us, especially in rural areas, because they kept their culture more than other places."

The villagers of Kebdah, on the north coast of RAK, invested Dh10,000 in a huge flag that leads from the motorway into their town.

"Now there's more relations between each emirate," says Ahmed Al Shehhi, 25, a policeman in Abu Dhabi. "We love each other more than before and want to show this."

While the heart of National Day may be found in the small villages across the Northern Emirates, the spirit of the festivities is also found in the city.

On RAK Corniche, thousands came to share in the experience.

After weeks of preparations, the main events began at 4pm, kicking off with a performance of the National Anthem by the tartan-clad police band. A short parade by people of all ages was followed by an impromptu parade of hundreds of cars draped in the national flag, painted in the colours or covered in stickers.

As the sun set, the city began to glow with the garlands of white, red and green lights strung from buildings and lampposts.

"National Day, it means my heart," says Zaina Khamis, 30, a mother from RAK who decorated her abaya with photos and stickers of the sheikhs.

"This is my father, my mother, my land, my sister, my life."


This story is one of a series this week from The National's past coverage of UAE National Day.