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Every year on the 2nd December, the United Arab Emirates celebrates National Day. On this day, 49 years ago, the leaders of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah agreed to unite, creating the United Arab Emirates to become one united country.
Since then, this is the time to celebrate Emirati culture, traditions, cuisine and most important of all, the fact that this unity has brought happiness and is home to many expats from all over the world! Read on to find out more about the history and culture of the UAE and tips on how to celebrate this year while staying safe and maintaining social distancing!
History of UAE National Day
Before 2nd December 1971, each of the seven emirates that now form the UAE were separate entities and it was under the guidance of the founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was also the country’s first president, that the rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Al-Ain, Sharjah, Fujairah and Umm al-Quwain agreed to come together as one country to achieve economic, political and cultural unity and strength. In February 1972, Ras Al Khaimah also joined the union.
When the United Kingdom started withdrawing its colonies across the Middle East and the Gulf region, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum started meetings to discuss the idea of unity in the Arabian Gulf and even though the British left in 1968, National Day for the UAE is marked on 2nd December 1971 when the official documents of unity were signed and the current flag of UAE was raised in the “House of Union”, where the 7 leaders met to make and agree upon this historic decision. His Highness the late Sheikh Zayed was then elected as president of the union and His Highness the late Sheikh Rashid became the vice president of UAE.
The country has since grown through this union to become a leader in the Gulf region and a main tourist attraction and business hub attracting both tourists and expats from around the world. It is also known as a leader in technological and cultural innovation while being one of the safest places to live in around the world.
UAE National Day Celebrations
Celebrations for UAE National Day have evolved over the years. What started as a one-day national holiday to celebrate UAE culture by wearing national dress, eating traditional Emirati cuisine, celebrating the UAE flag and having colourful parades all over the main streets of the country, has now become a lot more sophisticated and a lot more festive!
What Can You Do to Celebrate This Year?
Celebrations this year come under the slogan “Seeds of the Union” to honour the founding fathers of the UAE. The official public holiday will be from Tuesday 1st December (as this is also Commemoration Day in the UAE) till Thursday 3rd December, giving the nation an opportunity to celebrate for a whopping 5-day long weekend!
All efforts are going to be focused on making celebrations this year COVID 19 safe. The Seeds of the Union live production is not a live event but will be broadcast to audiences in the UAE and around the world on 2nd December live online to avoid crowds and large gatherings. UAE residents can also view it in cinemas across the country, where theatres have been open and operating under strict health and safety measures that ensure social distancing and proper hygiene.
This show has been produced by world-class local and international talent and follows the growth of a seed into a shoot and finally a full blooming plant, mimicking the journey of growth for the UAE in the last 49 years. It aims at spreading optimism and hope for the future of the nation as the UAE prepares to celebrate its 50th National Day in 2021.
You can join in the festivities safely from home by taking a video of yourself and your family while singing the UAE National Anthem and uploading the video online at www.uaenationalday.ae.
In addition, there will be a host of activities and offers across the nation that will allow UAE residents and expats to enjoy time at theme parks, hotels, restaurants and malls, all in a safe manner while maintaining hygiene and social distancing. The iconic Burj Khalifa will also light up with an LED show inspired by the UAE Flag.
Your family can also raise the flag! UAE flags are usually everywhere to be seen on buildings, schools, the iconic Dubai and Abu Dhabi towers and homes alike during National Day celebrations every year and everyone is encouraged to try traditional Emirati foods. The most famous is the yummy Kabsa dish made from basmati rice, lamb or chicken, mixed vegetables, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, nutmeg and bay leaves and cooked in one pot. You can give your kids a great treat and let them try the Sweet Luqaimat (Dumplings). Better still why not try cooking these dishes at home with the family by following the traditional recipes below:
Kabsa Spice Mix:
- 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
- 1/4 tsp white pepper powder
- 1/4 tsp saffron
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp ground all spice
- 1/2 tsp dried whole lime powder
- 2 tbsp oil
- 3 onions, sliced
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 green chili
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 6 cloves
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 pinch nutmeg powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper powder
- 1/4 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
- 3 tomatoes chopped
- 2 chicken stock cubes
- 1 1/2 kg whole chicken, cut into 6 pieces
- 3 cups basmati rice, rinsed
- 1/4 cup raisins
- Salt to taste
- Raisins and slivered almonds, to garnish
- Kabsa spice: blend the cardamom, white pepper, saffron, cinnamon, all spice and lime powder in a bowl and set aside.
- Heat oil in a large pan over medium to high heat. Add onions, ginger, garlic and green chilies. Sauté until the onions turn golden brown. Add the bay leaves, cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick and stir for a minute.
- Add the tomato purée, ground nutmeg, ground black pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander and kabsa spice. Then add salt to taste and stir for one minute.
- Add the carrots and diced tomatoes and and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken cubes and chicken pieces until the chicken is brown and turning it on both sides for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and put them aside.
- Add the rice and raisins with 4 cups of water and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat, cover with lid, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- On a preheated grill, grill chicken for 10-15 minutes or until cooked. Serve rice with grilled chicken.
Children also love dressing up in UAE national dress! This is the black Abaya and Sheila are for women and the white Thawb (an ankle long dress) with the Ghutra and Aqal on the head for men and boys. Young girls are encouraged to wear an array of colourful traditional dresses. All schools usually have a UAE National Day celebration where children are encouraged to wear either the national dress or the colours of the UAE flag to honour the nation, they safely live in.
No matter how you choose to join in the celebrations this year, make sure that you do so while wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and washing your hands regularly to ensure that you and all your family are safe.