This time we are again going to celebrate Christmas at home. The decorations are complete (above). Why is Christmas so big in a non-Christian family like ours? It’s because I have grown up believing in Santa and I still believe in him. Religious fundamentalists would probably find me preposterous but well, I blame it on my genes. Growing up in Kolkata, I have learnt to carve for the festive Semaiya Kheer/Vermicelli Pudding during Eid, search for traditional Halim and Firni during Ramadan in the various Muslim restaurants in the crowded Park Circus area of Kolkata, even taking the Z-Sisters to one such journey during our summer vacation this year. I’ve immerse myself with equal vigour in the crowd during autumn when the entire city turns into a carnival mode and festive frenzy during Durga Puja, the biggest festival for the Bengalis. And yes, we’ve attended mid-night masses on Christmas Eve and lighted candles at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata. I was born a Hindu but grew up embracing all religion because of my parents and because of Kolkata, the city which nurtured me. This is not a personal post yet touches many personal chords in my life – in our lives.
Our German Christmas
From landing in Dubai Airport in 1999 as a married couple with just 2 suitcases in hand, we have moved houses 5 times. And we have moved continents twice. It’s surprising how our assets have increased from those 2 suitcases full of material objects to many years full of memories and emotional possessions. Our setting up home in Frankfurt, Germany for 2 years in 2004 introduced us to real snow, real sausages, real Christmas and the traditional copybook Christmas dinners and German Beers – the Pilsners and Kellerbiers. And finally to the Magic of Christmas – the Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas markets in Germany (slideshow below).
While the Weihnachtsmarkt was all about snowflakes and Santa, strawberries and shortcakes, marzipans and muffins, bon-bons and candies, scented candles and hand-crafted wooden musical boxes and perhaps everything dipped in chocolate, a Christmas tree at home also meant a real Christmas tree – unwrapping it from the nets and freeing the branches before putting on the baubles. Beautiful handcrafted baubles made from wood or glass and other Christmas decorations.
Christmas decorations in Germany bring me back to the Käthe Wohlfahrt – the famous Christmas store. Exquisitely handcrafted Christmas tree Ornaments, Candles, Nutcrackers, Music Boxes, Advent Calendars, Cuckoo Clocks and more – Did we buy anything? Alas, not much. Earning in Dirhams give you minute chances in life to perhaps buy a few material things. Not Euros. And definitely not for newly-turned parents transported into Germany from the so-called tax-free Dubai!
So a Limitierte Edition of their unique miniature painting on wood – Kindertraum with miniature musical angels and animal figurines has now become a lovely page in our Germany album. The store is beautiful and we’ve visited their branches wherever we’ve come across… in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Heidelberg, Rüdesheim, Oberammergau. Also Brügge in Belgium. Waiting for that day when it’s going to perhaps open in the Dubai Mall!
While Christmas in Germany was all dreamy, settling down in a new city with a new-born baby; groping and struggling with a new language and seeking out new friends; slipping into the melting snow; getting frustrated while making the little one wear gumboots, snow jacket and gloves just to get some grocery from 50 ft away… these weren’t all that dreamy. We did make wonderful friends who have become friends for life. But I would like to mention Zafar (with white hair in the picture above). He helped us settling down in more than many ways – from fixing our DIY cupboards to taking us to different places in the initially unfamiliar Frankfurt. Coming from Dubai where we were used to paying someone to fix all these – fixing up an entire cupboard or a bed set or a dining table can be pretty daunting! Every weekend of his was spent at our place – fixing something and eating what I would cook – the world’s perhaps simplest and the most basic Chicken Curry and Rice. He was flamboyant, enjoying life to the fullest and loved doing things in style – for example marrying his girlfriend on 05.05.05! A crowd-puller in any party for sure. Zafar has been lying in Coma since May 2006. He’s alive but not in the way he would have loved to live – in his own style. As you read the post if you just think about him once, I’m sure the positive energy from so many well-wishers will reach him. After all, Christmas is all about magic!
On a lighter note, I have been hallucinating about the different types of German sausages being grilled over a large fire (above) in the Christmas Market held at the Old Römer in Frankfurt ever since we have been back to Dubai in 2007!
Santa in our life
Since 2007, it has been our sole responsibility to host Christmas dinners for our Dubai friends. After all, we were now trained in Germany to host elaborate Christmas dinners! And our very, very close friend Lulu (left) has always been the Santa. He is the only Santa that I ever knew and will ever want to know. Everybody who has met him has had only complained of one thing – tummy aches – as he would make us roll in laughter with his wit and humour. He’s no more. Last year we didn’t celebrate Christmas at home because I couldn’t come to terms with this tragedy. The Z-Sisters kept on asking – Why? I said ‘Because Santa is not coming to our home.‘ I remember Big Z asking ‘But Santa is coming everywhere. Why not our home?’
I haven’t been able to explain. I’d thrown away the Christmas tree that we had and everything associated with it. But as much as I have tried I’m realising that till I write this down, share my inner feelings, upload a picture of the Santa that came home, this loss is going to haunt me forever. And there might never be any Christmas in our home.
Though we’ve hid the fact from Big Z, this year specifically she has been very inquisitive and has been demanding many answers. Now she knows. It’s time to move on. We should celebrate Christmas this season and every season here after just to remember that we too had a Santa who came home. Once upon a time. A few days back she whispered in my years that ‘Someone’s going to stick something on your Mac tomorrow morning Mama. Please don’t be upset!’
magic, I believe in it
We are back to celebrating Christmas. We’ve just bought a new Christmas tree and new decorations – all in silver and white. And I’m feeling absolutely charged up to celebrate. I’ve already got the recipe for cooking (above right) from my visit to the Dubai Christmas Festival at the Crate & Barell corner – All you need is 1 Mom, 2 daughters, 1 kitchen, 1 love – forever! We are planning the menu for the Christmas dinner and the Z-Sisters are so happy. We’ve also been inspired by the Baubles from Things we Make and have done our own version as well (further below left). Li’l Z who’s just 3 years, probably doesn’t have much recollection of any Christmas. She bowed a la little Ballerina and said ‘Thank you Mama, Thank you Papa for getting a Christmas tree’. And the ultimate – ‘Thank you Christmas tree for coming to our home!’ (below right)
Our Dubai Christmas
When we had come to Dubai initially, I hardly remember Christmas being celebrated in a big way as it is now. A few Christmas dinners at friends’ home. I didn’t know how to cook. We would go to our friend Neeta’s house for Christmas in Sharjah. I don’t want to sound like a fossil but I don’t even have any pictures from those pre-digital era. I’m wondering whether we had a camera at all! She would host an elaborate Christmas dinner with traditional turkey with butter and nutty rice stuffing, different kind of roasts – leg of lamb, beef, pork, garlic and potatoes, brussel sprouts, baby carrots and shallots. She would also make a traditional Christmas cake with all the fruits and nuts going into a smooth paste. She would then cut the cake into small pieces and wrap them individually in coloured foils – in-case we wanted to carry a few of them home! I’ve been missing her Christmas dinners since the time we have started celebrating Christmas at home.
Once we made a messy train cake with 2 compartments – one for Big Z and the other for Li’l Z with a crooked paper banner proclaiming ‘Saha station welcomes Santa!’ Intentions were good so was the taste. S is officially designated for cutting the Turkey with our fancy German steel knives! We’ve had mini choirs at home – courtesy Big Z’s choir inspiration from her school. In fact their Christmas Carol Concert in school just got over, tuning us into the pre-Christmas mood.
Christmas in Dubai
Christmas is palpable in Dubai right now. Recently I took the Z-Sisters to the Dubai Christmas Festival which took place from 6th-8th December in the Amphitheatre, Dubai Media City. A huge Christmas tree with the MBC building and modern highrises in the backdrop – very strange and urban festive backdrop for sure. What was I expecting? A German Weihnachtsmarkt? I was probably expecting kiosks full of only Christmas goodies and decorations instead of branded shops and local big-named grocery stores exhibiting their own stuff. An entire store full of festive decorations from Crate and Barrel (below right) and many decorated Christmas trees apart, I’ve to admit that my expectations were a bit shattered – atleast initially. On the hindsight, it wasn’t all that disappointing. Friends and couples sitting on wooden benches, sipping on Beers and Wines in disposable plastic glasses, kids rolling in the grass and clicking pictures in front of Christmas trees – definitely there was Christmas in the air!
If you plan to celebrate Christmas in Shopping Malls
Is there any place in the world where you celebrate Christmas in shopping malls? Perhaps not. It happens only in Dubai! Every shopping mall and every shop window is shouting Christmas (shown below are displays from Harvey Nichols and Bodyshop)! Christmas may have been commercialised quite a bit in the modern times but the essence is still the same. The excitement of seeing huge Christmas trees in shopping malls can never cease. The sizes of the Christmas trees resonates with the sizes of the shopping mall. If you think you’ll be missing white Christmas here – then you’ll only need to enter the SkiDubai in Mall of Emirates. You’ll get a Christmas tree in the snow (further below).
Christmas picks of mine – most of them have been tried and tested with the Z-Sisters in tow (not food-related for once!) –
– Celebrating Christmas in SkiDubai – Snow Man Building, Snow Ball Gallery, Sled Race etc – ahhh a white Christmas in real snow!
– Making soft toys stuff in Build the Bear – We’ve built two similar Reindeers last year. The accessories cost more than the Reindeers and yes, they have been lying in the closet since last year. Cutest thing? They come with their own Birth Certificates and our Reindeers are called Sophia and Koel!
– Creating an entire range of special crockery set at Café Ceramique – This has remained an uncompleted project though!
– Mall hopping in the city famous for shopping malls for FREE – yes, we’ve have done this too! If you want to have a great time during Christmas, that too for free, then this is a fabulous option. Apart from being decorated in baubles and enormously tall Christmas trees, the Shopping Malls all over the city has lined up with special events during this season.
- Deira City Centre has a revolving carousel with twinkling festive tree surrounding it and complete with oversized gifts and animated characters.
- Mirdif City Centre is celebrating the winter season with the Garden of Lights.
- In Burjuman, the acclaimed musical score, The Magical Land of Oz is running at The Observatory (13th to 22nd December with three daily shows staged at 6pm, 7:30pm and 8pm).
- Mercato Mall is holding Festive Children’s Workshops (6th – 20th December from 3pm – 8pm on the First floor) where children can create their own festive crafts – salt dough decorations, seasonal cards, bells and bookmarks. There’s also a cute cosy cabin – the Festive Log House where children can relax on bean bags and watch their favourite holiday movies and read festive stories (Courtesy – Virgin Megastore).
- Dubai Festival City has an entire festive calendar with some brilliant events. The musical weekend evenings with Community Drumming where everyone can join in along along with the 40 drummers keeping the beat – this is absolutely my favourite! This is happening at the Canal Walk (from October 18th – December 28th, Thursdays: 8:00pm, 9:00pm, 10:00pm; Fridays: 7:00pm, 8:00pm,9:00pm; Saturdays: 4:00pm, 5:00pm, 6:00pm). There’s a spectacular Light & Water Show at the Festival Marina. Initially designed for celebrating the UAE 41st National Day, this show has now been extended for the next 3 months (1st December 2012 – 28th February, 2013; with 5 daily shows).
- What about Dubai Mall? Unfortunately, nothing’s for free here. Atleast I’m not aware of anything. As of Thursday their Facebook update was ‘Pass by TDM & meet our new guest: The 128.54 carat diamond @Tiffany’!!! So yes, you could perhaps see the new guest for free! However, Downtown Dubai, will be hosting Dubai’s most visually spectacular New Year’s Eve event – the annual Burj Khalifa fireworks in the league of the world’s most popular New Year’s Eve celebrations. A peep here #BeThere http://bit.ly/W8vG39
More pictures of our totally unplanned and random weekend Mall Hoppings just to see a few Christmas trees!
(Note: I have mentioned the above malls since I have visited them during this period. Many activities are happening in other malls around the city as well!)
If you want to celebrate Christmas at home
This is perhaps, still the most popular way of celebrating Christmas – at home with friends and family. A bit of planning in advance and yes, this is really the most satisfying. But fret not. I’ve compiled whatever you need to know from Cake decoration to setting up the table, from Starters to what to do with left-overs from my brilliant blogger friends from Fooderati Arabia (FiA). FiA is a group of bloggers living in the United Arab Emirates, united by one subject matter – Food!
A Collection of Festive Beverages
Starters & Appetizers
- Creamy Salted Cod Puree with Grilled Octopus | From Francine’s Life in the Food Lane
- Angels on Horseback (Smoked Oyesters wrapped with Bacon) | From Stacy’s Food Lust People Love
- Apple Brined Turkey | From Dima Sharif
- Low Fat Roast Turkey with Sage and Onion Stuffing | From Dima Sharif
- Red Current Relish to go with your Roast Turkey | From Dima Sahrif
- 3 Low Fat Low GI Turkey Sides with Pumpking & Sqaush | From Dima Sharif
- Baked Christmas Ham with Pineapple & Brown Sugar Mustard Glaze | From Stacy’s Food Lust People Love
- Roast Turkey with Freekeh | From Sarah’s The Hedonista
Desserts & Sweet Signoffs
- Rich Gingerbread Muffins with Honey Ginger Glaze | From Stacy’s Food Lust People Love
- Fruit Cake – Both Drunken & Virgin | From Dima Sharif
- Mincemeat Pies | From Dima Sharif
- Soft Meringue Pavlova with Peppered Berries & A Meringue Crumbles | From Dima Sharif
- The easiest, yummiest & most addictive Rocky Road Slice | From Dima Sharif
- After Eight Chocolate Domes | From Dima Sharif
- Christmas Pudding Gratin | From Sally’s My Custard Pie
- Middle-Eastern-Appropriate Gingerbread lamp with stained glass | From Sarah’s The Hedonista
- Gobble Gobble Giblets! Cooking with Other bits| From Francine’s Life in the Food Lane
- Reinventing Leftovers & Recipe for Chinese Duck Stir Fry with Pomegranate | From Kari’s Chef & Steward
- Garlic, Herb and Parmesan Festive Wreath | From Sally’s My Custard Pie
Cooking Techniques & Other Essential Tips
- Royal Icing for Cookie Decoration | From Dima Sharif
- How to set the table for entertaining at home | From Karis Chef & Steward
A host of other Christmas recipes in E-Magazine
- Pecan fudge | From Stacy’s Food Lust People Love
- Christmas Chocolate Goodies from Forray & Galland | From Debbie’s Coffee Cakes And Running
- Gourmet Baked Christmas Goodies from Oushé | From Debbie’s Coffee Cakes And Running
- Cookie Basket Exchange & Christmas Gifts | From Dima Sharif
- What to Gift if you have foodie friends? | From Dima SharifT
- The Perfect Gifts for Enthusiastic Cooks | From Dima SharifGingerbread Cookies & Cookie Cutouts | From Dima Sharif
- Have You got an Advent Calendar? | From Debbie’s The Real Geordie Armani
Looking for a Give -away?
Nice reads on Christmas in Dubai
- A Desert Christmas Feast | From Sarah’s The Hedonista
- It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! | From Sarah’s A touch of Frosting and other things
Ordering the Canapes & the Turkey in
Sarah from The Hedonista rightly says – if you’d like someone else to handle the brunt, then you can order in a full Christmas dinner. It’s amazing, and I have no idea why you can’t get this done in the rest of the world. She’s also done a round-up for ordering the Turkey in from various places along with the prices.
- Bah Humbug | From Sarah’s The Hedonista
- Lafayette Gourmet’s Festive Menu! | From my blog
- Christmas Catering Menu | From Marta’s Kitchen
Dining out during Christmas
So you want to taste a Cocktail which till recently was the most expensive in the world and enter the world of fantasy? Containing the L’Heraud Grand Champagne 1906 vintage Cognac, bitters from Germany and Champagne with 24 carat gold in it all housed in a special Swarovski glass? Read on…
- The world’s most expensive cocktail?… plus a Christmas lunch goodie | From Samantha’s FooDiva
- The ultimate Champagne Cocktail at Burj – Al- Arab | From Sally’s My Custard Pie
And if you have been thinking of going away from Dubai and still haven’t made any getaway plans, you’ll be happy to know that The Telegraph UK notes that Dubai is the most popular destination for those seeking winter sunshine! Exclusive Christmas dinners in exotic ambiances or gourmet dinners at home and lavish gifts apart – if you are in a mood of slight introspection, then do hop into my previous article Giving Back. Signing off by sharing the message that I had seen in St Paul’s Cathedral on our Kolkata visit during these summers (above) – Bishwe Shanti Biraj Koruk/May Peace prevail in the world!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them please don’t use them as some of them have been taken from our personal albums just to make your reading experience more pleasurable. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.