Last week and the past weekend were special in Dubai, as they marked 2 major events – firstly November 30th was Martyrs Day, when those Emiratis who have given their lives for their country are remembered, then 2 days later on 2nd December, UAE National Day was celebrated.
As might be expected, Martyrs day is sombre and respectful, whereas National Day is full of colour, joy and celebration, a true family occasion. As an expat living here though, the thing that is great to see is that its not just Emiratis who mark these occasions, but it seems the entire population gets involved. Of the more than 9 million people living in the UAE, only some 12% are Emirati, but that doesn’t stop the other 88% sharing in these events, proudly waving Emirati flags.
We spent the evening before National Day walking along the beach area near us, and there was so much activity. We stopped for a while to watch a free concert featuring Emirati singers and musicians, and whilst we were of course not familiar with the music, there were many around us who were totally absorbed and having a great time. Families were out together picnicking, and local restaurants were doing a roaring trade.
However, I got to thinking about how these events are marked by their equivalents back in the UK – we of course have Remembrance Sunday, and being English, the comparable event to National Day would be St. Georges Day on April 23rd.
As a child growing up, Remembrance Sunday, or ‘Poppy Day’ as it is often known, was always a major event. My father would spend hours at local shopping areas, selling poppies and collecting for the Royal British Legion. Then on the day itself, he would proudly join a local parade of veterans, marching in memory of their fallen colleagues.
These days however, it seems very different – I wasn’t back in the UK for this year’s event, but most of the news I saw, and things I read on social media really quite saddened me – stories such as England and Scotland footballers being banned from wearing poppies on their shirts as doing so was considered by FIFA to be political, or people appearing on TV being berated because they didn’t wear a poppy, despite it being more than 2 weeks before Remembrance Sunday. These types of stories seem to overshadow the real purpose of the occasion.
As for St. Georges Day, every year my Facebook timeline is full of memes where people declare that they will not be stopped from putting the flag of St George on their page, but as a nation we don’t seem to do anything significant to mark the occasion – and having witnessed the happiness that is shared here by Emiratis and ‘Immigrants’ alike for their National Day, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious.
The UAE is only 45 years old, England and the United Kingdom are far older, but I can’t help thinking that we can learn something from what I have seen and experienced here. Regardless of which side of the ‘Brexit’ debate we might sit, or what our race is, or our religion, or politics, wouldn’t it be good if we could come together a little more often, and share in those things that unite us?