Sunday, December 9, 2012

On the Ninth Day of Christmas: Arabian Nights!

Most single expatriates in Dubai celebrated Christmas Day with their friends in apartments or villas.  My own favorite took place in a true Middle Eastern house with a large, central, stone-paved courtyard sheltered by willowy palm trees.  All the rooms, including the kitchen, went off the central courtyard.  In the corners sat enormous pots with ficus trees and bright pink bougainvillea plants, still blooming in December and growing up the inside walls , their trunks so thick you could see how old were the original plants.  

It was a typically warm December so a dining table set for twelve had been established outdoors in the middle of the courtyard.  The Arab setting was so perfect, you could almost picture the Scheherazade and the Sultan sitting down to partake in a spectacular feast with marvelous stories to follow.  This image was slightly distorted by the Christmas crackers on each dinner plate, and the smell of the traditional English turkey dinner filling the air.  Also somewhat incongruous was the twinkling, colorfully decorated Douglas fir in the corner of the yard beside the bougainvillea.  All the same, this was a beautiful blend of European expatriate and local Arab themes.  When we twelve sat down to a multicultural dinner of turkey, sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, combined with local vegetables, cous-cous and Persian salads, I was moved by an almost overwhelming feeling of joy – of community and sharing and love. It probably looked absurd: singing English Christmas carols, paper hats on our heads, while palm fronds waved above us and the Islamic call to prayer blared out from the mosques...but that's when I reminded myself that I was closer to the actual birthplace of Jesus right here under these shimmering stars than I’d ever been in my life.

Waxing so poetic here, I make the whole day sound wistful, sentimental.  Not at all!  Crazy cocktails were devised; Australian boxed wine was supped, and though I'm not a Scotch drinker, I "tested" several of those that were available.  Family stories and saucy jokes were told.  Ridiculous presents were exchanged then played with throughout the afternoon, proving that grown-ups everywhere revert to childhood once Santa has been to town.

Honestly though, for all the fun and merriment, what I remember most is the sight of the "table of plenty," that moment of connection, and a lasting sense of being included in a home away from home.  And the scotch.


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