Never would I have imagined that an Islamic state would have such a huge presence of all things Christmas. I’m not joshing you! I’m talking winter wonderlands, gingerbread houses, reindeer rodeos, mince pies, Christmas pudding, Christmas cakes, turkeys, hams, hotel Christmas dinners (with some 5-star ones delivering), tree lighting ceremonies, carol concerts, Santa sightings, and huge Christmas trees. This year, the Dubai Christmas Festival even had artificial falling snow (supposedly ecofriendly), an ice rink, and a snowball fight pit!
Just a few years back, nearby Emirate Abu Dhabi’s world-famous Emirates Palace hotel boasted a Christmas tree trickling Dh42 million worth of gold and gemstones! Yuppers, you heard it right – that’s about 11 million US dollars. It was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive Christmas tree of all time! Um…I would not have minded a quid pro pro arrangement for breaking down some of that tree. Shoot, I’d break the whole darn thing down for just one those sparkling gems!
Yet, there is no place like home for the holidays. This is the undeniable truth for every expat living here in Dubai. Despite all the brainy attempts at making the desert Christmassy, the ambiance from back home can never be replicated for most. I can only imagine that Christmas pudding, roast goose and wassailing is just not the same as back in the U.K. and the Misa de Gallo is not as momentous as back in the Philippines. And a U.S. Virgin Islands Christmas here in Dubai is a little challenging to say the least.
Back home, Christmas season is marked by a the Crucian Christmas Carnival so things start buzzing as soon as December hits, in preparation for the annual festival that lasts over two weeks. So it’s not just one day of tropical holiday fun, the official party actually starts the day after Christmas at the opening night of ‘village’. Not quite Global Village, but similar in a sense and much more modest in regards to dollars spent in putting the event together. St. Croix does not have the kind of riches to put together the extravagant village we have here, but there is something just as wonderful and special about our own Crucian Christmas season.
For one, people drink like fish until they drop like flies! Yes, coquito, guavaberry, and ponche cuba are to be found in every house hold. My mother pulls out her bottle of anisette around this time and places it on the counter with little plastic shot glasses for expected and unexpected guests. Everyone is busy talking about either what they’re going to make, making it themselves, or looking for someone who makes and sells it. Christmas on St. Croix is pasteles, arroz con dulce, and lechon (Puerto Rican); red grout, sweetbread, and saltfish gundy (Crucian); ponche de crème, black cake, and pelao (Trinidadian). Christmas on St. Croix is the mellifluous Stanley and The Ten Sleepless Nights, Puerto Rican parrandas, a spirit of island cordiality and festiveness expressed in all the happy cheers and exchange of food, everyone pulling out their sweaters for our 67 degree short moments of “winter” as the night falls, college kids and other family visiting, parade day, jouvert morning, mocko jumbies, the sweet sound of our calypso and soca blaring everywhere, lots of parties, the putting up of holiday curtains, doiles & mantels, the smell of fresh paint and lots of power-washing and lawn care. For some reason, if you’re going paint your house, you tend to wait for Christmas.
Even though the Crucian Christmas festival season officially kicks off on December 26, it’s unofficially a whole month, so don’t expect much business to get accomplished. Best of all, there are three official holidays: Christmas Day, News Years Day, and Three Kings Day. Government workers get a few extra days off too. In other words, don’t mess with a Crucian Christmas, we take it really serious!
Dubai Christmas is pretty cool with its opulence and grandiosity and I have to give them credit for trying to make it as authentic as possible, but this is a desert after all, so no amount of fake snow and imported frozen turkeys can ever make it like the ones back home for us expats. As for a tropical Christmas, nothing can ever take the place of our Crucian Christmas back home! After all, there is no other feeling like the sheer excitement of hearing the distant sound of Stanley coming down deh’ street singing “Ma Ma Bake Your Johnny Cake…Christmas Coming”. This Crucian Christmas classic is everything that represents home for us. Enjoy and cheers!