Friday, November 4, 2011

Holiday Hang-ups

"It's time to come together
it's up to you,what's your pleasure,
everyone around the world, come on!" - Cool and the Gang

I recently wrote about celebrating American holidays (Halloween) in the UAE.  Even though American holidays are not officially recognized, there usually isn't any problem with celebrating them.  There is a pretty large western expat community here, especially in Dubai.  Combine that with all the exposure to American movies and other media and it ends up that a lot of people here have heard of some of the bigger American holidays and are fairly tolerant of them.  Some locals even "kind of" join in the celebration in different ways.  It is a fascinating mix of culture, religion, consumerism, and fun.  Maybe I'll address some of that a little more as we approach the American holiday season and its influence over here.

In the meantime, there are some interesting local holidays that we have been introduced too.  Most of them are Muslim holidays.  When we first arrived last year it was in the middle of Ramadan or the month of fasting.  It took a little getting used to the fact that it is AGAINST the LAW to eat during the day for an entire month.  About 2 months later, our neighbors knocked on our door and offered us a bag full of goat meat.  They informed us that it was to celebrate the holiday of Eid al Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice.  Apparently, it is a celebration to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice is son Ishmael (yes, they believe it was Ishmael) and God's intervention.  Because of this they split a sacrificial goat/lamb/ram in three parts to share in the celebration.  We were the fortunate recipients of one of the parts..... it was tasty.

Anyway, that was last year.  This year, we were a little more prepared for Ramadan so we starved a little less. And this week is the holiday of Eid.  What has been interesting this year is to learn a little more about how the holidays work.  These two holidays (and many other Muslim holidays) are not based on the regular Gregorian calendar, but instead on the Muslim calendar that is ... well, a lot less certain and shorter.  The Muslim calendar is tied a lot more closely to the phases of the moon.  Because of this, it is (at least in some countries) a little more open to interpretation.  What I mean is that since a month doesn't start/end until the moon changes phases, the exact start date of a month, or in this case a holiday, may need to be announced and made official by a religious leader (Supreme Judicial Council in Saudi Arabia) or the head Sheikh of the country/region/etc.

In reality, this means that you don't really know the exact days (or amount of days) you may get off work for a holiday until as close as a week before the holiday.  This can be a little frustrating.  In the case of Eid this year, most employees where I work were expecting a week off for the holiday.  We were finally informed only a week ago that we would NOT get the entire week, but only 3 days off.  Needless to say, there were some upset people who had to cancel flights or other travel plans.  Then, after all adjustments had been made and employees had resigned themselves to the fact that they would not get the expected time... at 3:30pm of the final work day before the holiday, we were informed that things had changed and yes, we would now get the entire week off.  Bittersweet.

This whole scenario might help give the blog readers a little glimpse at some of the way things work here.  Some say that the only reason for the uncertainty of holiday schedules and other similar events is so that those in charge (government, sheikhs, employers, etc) can have a way to always remind the populace that they are in control/power.  Others say that it is more a symptom of disorganization and ineffective communication.  And, there are others they claim it is a systematic way to keep expats in the country as much as possible to keep their money here instead of being spent traveling to other destinations.... you know, to help the economy.  Any way you look at it, it can be a little annoying.  Not the holiday itself.  I think those are fascinating and enjoyable.  It would just be nice to mark the calendar ahead of time and not wait on some unknown "they" for an official announcement.

Anyway... it is nice to have a week off ;)  Tis the season!

EID Mubarak SMS  Advance EID SMS  Creative Collection

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