Andrea Gisdal | Head of Marketing and Communications, Emirates Literature Foundation

Having children makes Christmas magical again, says Andrea. “Their excitement is contagious”
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year, keeping in view the restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic?

We are looking forward to celebrating a quiet Christmas at home. Good food, unwrapping presents, the Christmas hits playlist on Spotify and a Bond movie or two is really all you need.

What is the highlight of your Christmas celebration usually?

Having children makes Christmas magical again, as their excitement is contagious. So opening presents is always a big highlight. Once all the gifts have been unwrapped, my husband and I get to relax a little as the kids play with their new toys.

Is there a personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

We have had a Christmas party every December since moving to the UAE in 2008, and it is one of my favourite annual events (not counting the Emirates LitFest, of course). We turn down the AC and put warm clothes on to make it feel wintery. I also make my own hot mulled drinks with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves which makes the whole house smell amazing for days. It is always a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends, and it is what I will miss the most this year.

One thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

Our annual Christmas party, and everyone else’s Christmas parties.

Most memorable Christmas celebration.

We have had so many memorable holidays, but there is one that stands out from many years ago.

Together with a friend, I was dropped off at the stables where we normally ride. Then while my friend and I went for a gorgeous horse ride through the sand dunes, our husbands were setting up a campsite with tents and a fireplace, and getting the barbecue started. By the time we arrived at the camp it was sunset, with chairs set up around a warming fire and Christmas carols playing on the speaker. It was absolutely magical.

The best gift you received for Christmas.

A few years ago, my husband took my then 4-year-old son to the Gold and Diamond Park to select a gift for me. He chose a lovely little necklace with three hearts which he informed me was one heart for each of them: him, his brother, and my husband. While I may have jewellery that came with a bigger price tag, to me, there is nothing more valuable to me than this necklace.

The best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

I have been told I am impossible to shop for as my wish list is full of items like ‘a full night’s sleep’, ‘a day without technology’, and ‘a few hours to read in peace’. So this year just to help out, I am going to wish for a few books.

Nympha Cubile | Administration coordinator

Nympha will be missing the traditional Simbang Gabi or “night mass” this year
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year, keeping in view the restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic?

Christmas 2020 is certainly different. This year, we are attending online "Misa De Gallo" on Christmas eve followed by simple " Noche Buena", Filipinos often wake up at midnight to welcome Christmas Day with Noche Buena, a Filipino traditional dish. This is followed by exchange of gifts among housemates, movie marathon. We have arranged a family Christmas Party on Zoom this will serve as a reunion of sorts, as well.

What is the highlight of your Christmas celebration usually?

Our family usually sets up Christmas decorations in the -ber months. Philippines has the longest festive season in the world! We start buying gifts for our relatives, god children and friends from August. Except for our special gifts to relatives, my mom used to buy dozens of handkerchiefs, towels and socks for the elderly members in the family; soap, sugar, pasta for visitors on Christmas. All visitors home also get to enjoy our food. Although my mom is no more, I continue to follow the tradition she inculcated to my siblings and me. Christmas Day afternoon is set aside to visit our aunts and uncles and god parents to seek their blessings or to "mano". We also take along gifts for them.

One thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

Definitely, celebrating Christmas with my family. The Simbang Gabi or "night mass" in St. Mary’s Church. It is basically 9 days mass before Christmas. I try to attend all 9 days, both as a religious practice and the belief that attending all 9 masses will grant my wish.

Your most memorable Christmas celebration?

I can’t remember the most memorable Christmas celebration. I think celebrating Christmas with the family is the best. Family reunion is one of the highlights of Christmas season in our family. I haven’t experienced this for the past 7 years.

What was the best gift you received for Christmas?

The best Christmas Gift that I ever received was when I received a job offer from my first employment. (It was few months before I graduated college).

The best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

Material thing? Since I am artistic by heart, I have a very simple gift that I want to receive this Christmas…… a letter board or mug printing machine. I have one wish though: I pray that 2021 is better for us all.

Charmagne Thomas | Civil aviation professional

Charmagne is looking forward to playing Secret Santa with her boys
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year, keeping in view the restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic?

Personally this Christmas is not going to be any different from previous years, as I usually like to spend quality time with my loved ones except that this year my parents cannot join me in Dubai, due to the obvious travel risks that I don’t not want them to be exposed to.

What is the highlight of your Christmas celebration usually?

December as a whole brings in festive spirit. Everyone is usually in celebration mode. Usually we have family dinners, exchange gifts among family and colleagues, office get-togethers etc.

Is there a personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

Christmas tree decoration and playing Secret Santa with my boys who are already excited about the gifts they would receive on Christmas eve.

The one thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

Due to Covid, most interactions have become virtual and all social gatherings have been cancelled. These days you cannot even hug or hold a dear friend. I miss the human element and feeling of warmth and sense of community when you are around people physically.

Tell us your most memorable Christmas celebration?

I would say every year has been a memorable one, as it is always good times, laughter shared with family members and friends. Everyone does feel the festive spirit, be it with the decoration at the house or office, family dinners, office parties, visit to Christmas markets around the city or exchanging gifts.

What was the best gift you received for Christmas?

For me gifts are not very important, I enjoy seeing the joyful expressions of my boys when they open up their gifts. Their happy faces is absolutely priceless for me; so that is my best gift every Christmas for me.

The best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

This year has been unique in so many ways, after all the sadness and struggles I have seen around my dear ones, I am just thankful for every little thing in life; good health, job, roof over my head, love of family and friends. I wish for everyone around the world to find reason to smile on Christmas Day and beyond.

Carolina D’Souza | Brand communication consultant

Carolina will be trying out culinary traditions – some completely new – for Christmas lunch
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year?

The spirit of Christmas has always been about family, and not being able to travel home to be with them has inspired a new experience. A few friends, my extended family here, are trying out culinary traditions – some completely new – at a Christmas lunch. This coupled with a few games and carols are on the cards.

What is the highlight of your Christmas celebration usually?

A community sports’ day my mum has been organizing for almost 30 years! A few days before Christmas, we plan the games and accompanying prizes, which are gift wrapped and labelled at home. On Christmas Day, the chapel grounds turn into a mini fair with the sports’ day line-up and local carts selling ice creams and other goodies. It’s a wonderful spirit of giving which has been part of my Christmas memories all these years, and I will miss it dearly this year.

Is there a personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

Like all rituals, people play an integral role. When my sister and younger cousins were around, we would spend a few hours distributing Christmas goodies in the neighborhood. More recently, with most of us living in different parts of the world, rituals are harder to hold on to. Soon after Christmas, local children stuff hay in the effigy of the ‘Old Man’ and burn him before the new year to symbolize ‘ring out the old and ring in the new’. It’s a hoot to see creativity and innovation mixed with tradition as you walk around the neighborhood, Old Man spotting!

What is the one thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

Being home.

Tell us your most memorable Christmas celebration?

It was the first time we had Christmas lunch at my sister’s home after she got married. Lunch was always at my mum’s place, and that first year – almost eight years ago – our small family was blessed with a whole bigger family with a table that went from seating four to seating 12+.

What was the best gift you received for Christmas?

Countless handwritten notes by mum on an envelope – with a little money for indulgence, kept every year under our Christmas tree.

Tell us the best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

The hope that I can travel home to Goa, India, next Christmas!

Mario Campos | Business development manager

Mario’s best Christmas gift are his “darling twins” Christine and Christopher
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year?

The challenge will be to refrain from gatherings and mingling freely. To begin, we will be participating in the online service as a family along with our other brethren. Thereafter we will have the customary family Christmas lunch where it is only our family, thanking God for graces and providence. Although there are restrictions in gathering and the social distancing factor, we are extremely blessed to be living in this country as most of the malls have organised fun activities and shows building up to Christmas. We will be spending the evening going mall-hopping and savour the festivities of the Christmas markets.

The hightlight of your Christmas celebration.

It is the Christmas dinner that we all look forward to. The table will be set with the customary red backdrop and candlelights. We always have a roasted stuffed turkey which is ordered in. It always is dangerously delicious. Alongside is a whole lot of dishes prepared by my wife including some Goan delicacies. To top it are the famous Goan sweets Godshe and Bebinca. Its already setting my tastebuds tingling.

Is there a personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

As a family we put up the Christmas tree and each one has a role to play in this. It is a sort of bonding getting the tree up together. We did the same when we were growing up and that ritual continues. Another is all of us joining to prepare the plum cake from scratch at home. The dry fruits and other ingredients are ready and the cake will be ready a couple of days prior to Christmas. It gives us all a feeling of togetherness and love.

One thing you are going to particularly miss this year?

The customary visits we make to family and friends. On a normal Christmas day, we would carry homemade sweets and goodies for our loved ones and friends. And the same would be reciprocated by them. We will definitely be limiting ourselves regarding the visits but they all will be in our hearts. We will miss going for the midnight mass as that was always a highlight.

Your most memorable Christmas?

My most memorable Christmas celebration was when we just got married. At the time we were in Goa and there is no better place than Goa to celebrate. It was spectacular because the entire city was brightly decorated with, lights, cribs and stars. There were live bands playing, food stalls selling Christmas sweets, Goan food, street food and various goodies. We saw a group carol-hopping and before we knew it, we were one of them. We started with a group of 6 and within no time that number grew to more than 70 people most of them strangers, but for that one night till the wee hours of the morning we were as a family in Christmas spirit of joy & good cheer.

The best gift you received for Christmas.

It was in 2007. That year we were blessed with our darling twins Christine and Christopher. It was the best gift we could ever imagine and receive.

The best gift you hope to receive this year.

It is my desire that this world returns to normalcy. I would like to live a free life sans masks and gloves. Hugging, shaking hands like we used to. May we be able to travel freely and holidaying without restrictions and curbs. In a nutshell.... A free world.

Anthony Fernandes | PR professional

The traditional family lunch is one of Anthony’s fondest memories of Christmas
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year, keeping in view the restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic?

This year has been like no other which means and many of us will have to ring in the joy differently. Our home will be our playground since we can’t venture out much. The décor is already up, and we are already discussing what the menu should be on the day. We are going to stay positive and feel festive.

What is the highlight of your Christmas celebration usually?

Festive food , food and more food. Not to mention the making of various traditional sweets in the run up to Christmas and getting the family involved in decorating and crib making. Usually, on the day, we dress in our Sunday best and go to church, meet and wish friends and family after mass. We invite the extended family over for a festive lunch or dinner. And all through the week we go meet friends and family if we haven’t met them on Christmas. Christmas ball is the next big thing! Gathering are organised by many communities in ballrooms where we meet.

Is there a personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

Yes, we always visit Wafi mall to hear the angelic choir that sings before tree lighting. And then we head straight to Santa’s grotto with our little one. Guess we will be doing the same this year, albeit the welcome will be a bit different this year.

One thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

Going to church, experiencing the festive atmosphere after mass, meeting will all my family and friends (often together or individually).

Your most memorable Christmas celebration?

Going for midnight mass every year back home thereafter celebrating with friends and family. Having a traditional family lunch has always been memorable for us.

What was the best gift you received for Christmas?

This was way back in school. It was a 10-gear cycle that my uncle got me from the US. It was amazing. No one within my friend’s circle or anyone I know had a geared bike in those days.

The best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

Guess we all have. Vaccination! Just kidding. I hope for a peaceful, joyful year ahead for everyone.

Anthony J W Macharia | IT support manager

For the Macharias, the most important family ritual during these festive times is putting up the Christmas tree
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year?

This Christmas we – my wife Faraja and son Theodore, 8 – plan to have a hearty breakfast and visit Nakheel Mall the rooftop festive village where there is a Winter Wonderland with live entertainment happening. We are looking forward to having a good time there.

What is the highlight of your Christmas celebration usually?

For us, it is about giving and receiving gifts.

Is there a personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

The most important family ritual during these festive times is putting up the Christmas tree. We do it together as a family and there is a lot of fun and frolic at home particularly now that my son is a bit grown up and can join in putting the decorations on the tree.

The one thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

Every year, we used to have a small gathering with friends and family and celebrate Christmas. But this year, because of Covid restrictions we will have to forego that. Our celebrations nevertheless is not going to be muted; we will be celebrating with just the family.

Tell us your most memorable Christmas celebration?

I would say the most memorable Christmas celebration was when our son turned 6 months old and I had my mother visiting us. It was her first visit to Dubai and it coincided with Christmas so we had a lovely and memorable time.

The best gift you received for Christmas?

It has to be a Kenneth Cole watch that my wife gifted me some years ago. I still have it and still cherish it.

Tell us the best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

I will wait for the surprise gift (smiley face).

Annie Mathew Paul | HR professional

The gift of hope is the best Christmas gift in this uncertain time, says Annie
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year?

Attend Christmas service online, get together with the family virtually, taped carol singing, and the usuals of Christmas - music, decor, lights, star, plum cakes and sharing sweets with neighbours and friends, playing secret Santa.

The highlight of your Christmas celebration?

The great joy and reflection of having found a surgeon for my heart; a friend for my soul who saw my condition had a plan from the start, by sending his son for my redemption despite my not having a context for that kind of love.

Secondly celebrating our daughter’s birthday. For the past 18 years, the house has always been filled with the laughter and joy of more than a dozen children who come together to celebrate her birthday.

Is there a personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

During our childhood, we used natural material for Christmas décor – star made with bamboo sticks and colour paper, Christmas tree was a branch from a pine tree, cotton balls for snow peaks and snow flakes. Every Christmas we add one of these festoons to our modern Christmas décor, a nod to an old-fashioned tradition.

One thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

Not being able to visit my nonagenarian parents. We keep our distance not only to help flatten the curve but also to show love and concern for the welfare of others. When life returns to normal, I want to look back with no regrets knowing that I put forth my best effort every single day.

Your most memorable Christmas celebration.

This one, our daughter Rhea travelling [from Canada to the UAE] to the home where she was born 18 years ago, to commemorate her entry into adulthood and obtain the blessings of her nonagenarian grandparents who oversaw her birth.

The best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

The gift of HOPE in this uncertain time.

H: to find happiness in everything

O: the grace to overcome challenges

P: endeavoring to fulfill His purpose

E: having an attitude of encouragement

PR Judson | MD and building designer, Judson Associates

PR Judson’s most memorable Christmas celebration was last year, when the family welcomed their grandson Antony
Supplied

How do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year?

This year, we are planning to celebrate a safe Christmas respecting the restrictions that are still in place.

The highlight of your Christmas celebration usually?

The highlight has always been family gatherings. All our Christmas celebrations have been with the family.

A personal/family ritual you have for this festive season?

Christmas eve mass is one ritual we follow religiously.

What is the one thing you are going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?

The family get together and the Christmas Eve Mass that we attend with the family.

Your most memorable Christmas celebration?

It was last year when we welcomed our grandson, Antony, into our life.

The best gift you received for Christmas?

I would say that was a surprise party arranged by my staff a few years back. I least expected it and was truly overwhelmed.

The best gift you hope to receive this Christmas?

The best gift and something that I keep in mind in all my prayers is the good health of my family and my staff. Knowing that they are safe and happy would be the best gift I can get.

Read more