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Why Christmas is still “the most wonderful time of the year” for British expats living in the Middle East
14 December 2015

Why Christmas is still “the most wonderful time of the year” for British expats living in the Middle East

Home to over 200,000 British expats, and many many more from countries such as the US, Canada and Australia, Christmas is celebrated in much of the Middle East.

Though the hot and sunny climate makes a white Christmas something of an impossibility, just about all other aspects of the festive season are catered for across the region.

Here are our top 7 reasons why Christmas is the Middle East is just as good as it is back home (and maybe even a teeny tiny bit better).

  1. Christmas starts at Christmas.

How often did you find yourself shopping for your summer holiday in August only to find shops had already started to replace bikinis with winter jumpers and toiletry gift sets? This definitely isn’t the case in the Middle East. Christmas often immediately follows Eid, so the shops are usually dominated by the Islamic celebration right up until it’s time to start opening your advent calendar.

  1. It’s a home from home.

Love the carol concerts, the tree lighting celebrations, the festive markets? Then you won’t be disappointed by Christmas in the Middle East. Most countries across the region are happy for their expat communities to openly celebrate the holiday, with gingerbread decorating workshops and Santa Dashes galore.  

  1. No more dreaming of a white Christmas.

Unless you live in the Scottish Highlands, white Christmases are fairly unusual in the UK. Nonetheless, we can’t help but imagine dusting off the old sledge and throwing a few snowballs before lunch. With temperatures generally in the mid- to high-twenties in the Middle East, you’re unlikely to be under any illusions that snow will fall on Christmas Day. So instead of hoping for snow but being disappointed when you find yourself surrounded by cold drizzle, you can confidently plan your post-lunch snooze on a sunbed. Delicious.  

  1. Leisurely Christmas shopping.

Though the shopping malls are well-stocked for Christmas, there isn’t a sniff of a Black Friday or Cyber Monday, meaning that you’re not pressured into the same panic buying that is increasingly common in the UK. Wander the malls at a relaxed pace, sipping your Eggnog Latte and admiring the decorations, rather than surreptitiously adding items to your Amazon basket between meetings.

  1. Quality time for family.

There’s no getting away from it: expats staying put for Christmas will pine for their families even more than usual on the big day. But there are benefits to being far away from home. No more splitting the day between both sides of the family trying to please everyone but satisfying no one (least of all yourselves). No more hiding in the kitchen doing the washing up just to avoid the Queen’s Speech. No more cooking three types of roasts because Granny doesn’t like turkey and your niece has just turned vegetarian. Nope, when you’re spending Christmas with the members of your family that you see everyday, everything is just so much more relaxed.

  1. More Christmas presents…

When writing your Christmas list for your loved ones back home, bear in mind that if things are sent to Dubai from the UK the sender won’t have to pay the VAT. So that’s 20% more Christmas presents, right?

  1. You’re where it all began!

It’s easy to get caught up in all the Christmas craziness and forget about the origins of the holiday, but of course the city where Jesus was born is right here in the Middle East, in Palestine. As you might expect, Christmas in Bethlehem is a major event. Or rather a series of major events, as different denominations celebrate Christmas on different days. Christmas services and processions take place from the start of the Roman Catholic and Protestant celebrations on 24th December, right through to the Armenian Christmas celebrations on 18th January.