Your Complete 2019 Guide to Celebrating Christmas in Abu Dhabi

How to bring some seasonal magic to your expat posting in Abu Dhabi

Christmas in Abu Dhabi

A concern of many Christian families when they first hear they will be posted to a Muslim country, “will we still be able to celebrate Christmas?”

It might surprise newcomers and visitors just how many festive celebrations you will find in Abu Dhabi. In this guide, we will help you with:

  • Finding pre-Christmas events in Abu Dhabi
    • Festive markets and winter events
    • Tree lighting ceremonies
    • Photos with Santa
    • Gingerbread making
    • Where to buy Christmas supplies
  • What to do on Christmas Day in Abu Dhabi
    • Festive Brunches
    • Turkey takeaway services
  • Christmas Staycation ideas in the UAE

This guide is only updated until Christmas 2018. We will be revising and updating our listing in November 2019.  

This post is part of our Expat Life series – come and read more above living in Abu Dhabi as well as things to see and do in the UAE 


Pre-Christmas celebrations in Abu Dhabi

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the city will start to come alive with winter festivity.

Conveniently, the country’s national colours of Red, Green, White and Black fit pretty neatly into the traditional colours of Christmas – so as soon as National Day holidays are finished (2-3 December), attention in the retail stores and hotels becomes solely about Christmas.

Christmas Decorations how we celebrate Christmas in Abu Dhabi

Christmas Markets & Events

Winter Wonderland – Al Maryah Island

While the outside temperatures might not feel wintery (you can expect around an average of 26c for Christmas Day), the Winter Wonderland event on Al Maryah Island does it’s best to bring a touch of magical seasonal fun to the heart of the city.

Expect roving entertainers, daily live shows, carnival activities, arts and crafts and a snow zone, along with festive food and drink.  Kids activities also take place daily (some with fee) including snow globe making, cookie decorating and face painting. A miniature train runs around the promenade and we hear fairy tale princesses might be on hand this year – as well as Santa and his elves, of course.

Al Maryah Island. 13 to 26 December 2018, 4pm to 10pm daily. Learn more and see full event schedule here


Worried you will have a full house at Christmas?  Look at these options for apartment hotels in Abu Dhabi for your extra guests


Westin Festive Market & Family Fun Day

Loads of activities including cookie decoration, wishing tree and the famous Santa chase (limited numbers, registration required, run by age groups)

Westin Hotel, Sas al Nakhl, Sunday 8 December 2018 from 12 noon. 

Swiss Christmas Market

Run by the Swiss Business Council, this annual event is a showcase for local crafters to show their goods. The market features dozens of little Swiss chalets to give a European market feel. Expect evening carol singing and lots of festive food and drink!

Held at the Beach Rotana. 5 to 8 December 2018 – variable daily timing, check here

Christmas Market Stall

Festive Family Fun Day at Saadiyat Beach Club

Includes a market, with various food and beverage offerings.  Also running a Santa Chase event.

Saadiyat Beach Club, from 12pm Saturday 15 December 2018. 

Charity Flea Market

Held at the Sheraton to pick up some second-hand bargains for Christmas. The event will include a bouncy castle and dedicated kids play area, plus live entertainment to get you in the festive swing.

Sheraton Hotel & Resort Abu Dhabi from 9am to 5pm, Saturday 8 December

YAS ISLAND

Winter Carnival – the first time this event will be run at Gateway Park South, but they are making bold claims it will be the biggest Abu Dhabi has seen!   It will kick off with a tree lighting on Tuesday, 11 December at 6pm and run through until 15 December 2018.

Expect kids activities and rides (some paid), as well as a Christmas Market and entertainment, a snow zone and fireworks. Learn more about the winter carnival here

Festive Candy Land – Yas Marina

Again, a slight change to the previous year’s festivities at the Marina which took place for several beforehand, you could look forward to seeing Santa arrive by boat.  Watch this space as we gather more on this year’s event line up. 21 & 22 December 1pm to 7pm

Ferrari World will also have its own set of winter celebrations happening from 14 December to 5 January (AD school holidays).

McGettigans Jumper party!

Pull out your bad taste jumper and time to party with your friends – a one-off drinks and dinner (adults only).

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McGettigans, Raha Beach Hotel 12 December 2018. Learn More Here

Le Royal Meridien Ugly jumper party

Held across the hotels popular dining establishments for an afternoon of fun. Prizes for ugliest sweater and dining fees apply as it’s part of their Friday Brunch.

LRMAD, 7th, 14th and 21st December 1-4pm 


Christmas Carols and Religious Services

The most famous run in the city is by St Andrews church, their annual Carols in the Desert.  You can read a full write up on this event here on Family Travel in the Middle East. Held on 7 December 2018.

We are confirming exact Mass timings still with various churches. 

You will also find carolers at many of the tree lighting events and Christmas Day Brunches we list below.

Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremonies taking places in Abu Dhabi

Tree Lighting Ceremonies

A fun evening for the kids can be attending annual tree lighting ceremonies at the various hotels all over town. Some to look out for that are normally pretty spectacular include:

1st December 2018

  • Abu Dhabi Golf Club 6pm (includes buffet after and a huge 4-hour line up of entertainment)

4 December 2018

  • Le Royal Meridien from 6pm
  • Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi from 6.30pm to 10.30pm

5 December 2018

  • Pearl Rotana from 5pm
  • Le Meridien, The Village from 6pm
  • St Regis Abu Dhabi from 6pm
  • Bab al Qasr from 6.30pm

6 December 2018

  • Traders Hotel: 6pm to 7pm
  • Yas Hotel from 6pm
  • St Regis Saadiyat Island: 6.30pm-7.30pm
  • Anantara Eastern Mangroves 6pm-8pm
  • Shangri La from 7.30pm

7 December 2018

  • Hilton Hotel from 6pm
  • Grand Millenium Al Wadha from 6pm

9 December 2018

  • Emirates Palace – The $11m tree, need we say more! (opening night is very busy, pop back later in the season to get your piccy’s!) Start time TBC.
  • Sofitel from 6pm

11 December 2018

  • Park Rotana from 5.30pm

12 December 2018

  • Sheraton Abu Dhabi from 6pm

You can be pretty sure Santa will make an appearance and there will be extra treats on offer.  Always check directly with the venue to confirm timing.

The impressive Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Christmas Tree
The impressive Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Christmas Tree

Where to get a photo with Santa in Abu Dhabi 2018

(Some of this list is based on previous year’s information. We’ll update for 2018 as soon as Santa has confirmed spottings – with a half-decent smile!)

Other than at the events mentioned above, you should find a regular Santas for photo opportunities at:

  • Abu Dhabi Mall – Winter Village 11am to 3pm and 4pm to 8pm from 12 December to 24 December 2018
  • Galleria Mall – Santa’s Grotto from 3pm – 10pm 6 to 24 December 2018.
  • World Trade Centre Mall – had a fabulous set up in 2017, 2018 details TBC
  • Yas Mall – Festive Season 13 to 25 December 2018. Santa’s Grotto 10am -10pm (12am Thu & Fri)

Yes some of these Santa’s seem to work to very late at night, but as you will see being here a while, it’s a very stay up late culture and Santa crosses over all races and religions when it comes to kids entertainment! Don’t be surprised to see yourself in line with children in national dress. 

Santa Grotto Yas mall
Santas Grotto at Yas Mall; Generally has pretty short lines

Gingerbread activities in Abu Dhabi

  • St Regis Abu Dhabi Gingerbread house making, 5 December 2018, 4pm to 6pm, AED 150 per child (02 694 4553)
  • Emirate Palaces Gingerbread house making  Saturday 15 December 2018, 2 to 5pm, 245 AED per child
  • Jumeirah Hotel Ginger Bread House and Snowman Making,  Lobby Lounge on 23 & 24 December 2018, price TBC
  • Le Meridien Gingerbread house making, 5 December 2018,  4 to 6pm 125 AED

Note: Always book in advance for these sessions! The fee is per child but if you enquire nicely, siblings may be allowed to share one project. 

Shopping for presents and supplies in Abu Dhabi

Yes, you can get Christmas decorations and supplies in the UAE.  Maybe not as plentiful as over countries, but you don’t have to dig far to get them!

ACE Hardware store is well known for having their plastic trees and decorations ready from about September! You will also find most of what you need in Carrefour, Lulu’s and many other supermarkets and speciality shops from November. You can also try reliable old IKEA!  Not saying items are particularly cheap, but they can be found.  Daiso is one of the better budget options but you do get what you pay for.

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Park Rotana Abu Dhabi welcomes families

Shopping for your ornaments, trees and other christmas supplies in Abu Dhabi is getting easier

As for Christmas present for the kids – don’t suppose you’ve got anyone arriving from overseas shortly? While we have plentiful malls with international brands, expect to pay top dollar.

Some big companies do deliver direct the UAE, and you can use Shop & Ship services, but by the time you add shipping cost, import taxes – it may well be cheaper to buy your flight overseas, stock up with full suitcases and bring them back.  Plan ahead from the summer!!!


Related Reading: 15 Christmas Facts and Traditions around the world


Christmas Day in Abu Dhabi

Now not forgetting it is still a Muslim country, Christmas Day is NOT a public holiday.

That said, with children on school holidays, a lot of understanding employers will allow their Christian employees a day of leave – but not all.

(Psst, one awesome thing is all the shops are still open! So forgotten batteries, Santa fails, last-minute lunch details, no problem!)

Brunch with the family

If you think Friday Brunch is a big thing in Abu Dhabi, wait until you see Christmas Brunch!  Hotels will pull out all the stops for one of the most spectacular spreads of the year.  Save the cooking for another day and have someone else do the dishes!

Almost every hotel will have some variety of Christmas lunch but the popular ones will book out early (normally by end of November/early December) and require full payment up front to guarantee your seats.  You will find most have a Christmas Eve option, too.

(Always when booking something like Brunch check if tax is included, and cut off ages for children discounts)

Christmas Brunch with choir welcoming at Fairways, the Westin Abu Dhabi
A choir welcomes diners to the Fairways Brunch at the Westin Abu Dhabi

Here are a few of our favourite Christmas brunches for families – thanks to our many readers for these suggestions over the years:

Ritz Carlton – Giornotte

A spectacular spread across Giornotte Restaurant, through to their lavish desert room, including Santa, live entertainment and a kids magic show.  As well as all the traditional Christmas trimmings, don’t forget they also have Abu Dhabi’s finest cheese room!

Prices starting from 495AED, Children 6-11 50% off, under 6 free.

Timing: 1pm to 4pm

See full offer details for 2018 here.

Westin Abu Dhabi (next to Abu Dhabi Golf Club)

An incredibly popular family offering at their Santalicious Brunch.  The action spills from their usual Friday Brunch setting at Fairways, onto the balcony then a chilled vibe on the lawn for dancing and more drinks post-lunch. Always a big line up of kids entertainment, games, bouncy castle.

Kids enjoying the extra entertainment at the Westin Christmas Brunch

Prices starting from 345 AED, child 129 AED.  They also offer packages which include pre-purchase vouchers for the famous after party on the lawn.

Timing: 12.30pm – 5pm & 5pm until late

See full offer details for 2018 here

Four Seasons  – Al Maryah Island

There will be three main Christmas sessions – at Butcher & Still for a la carte menu, Cafe Milano and Crust with kids entertainment.

You can see our review of the regular Crust Friday Brunch here.

Prices starting from 390 AED, children 6-12 180 AED, Children under 5 70AED

Timing: 12.30pm – 4pm

See full offer details for 2018 here

Fairmont Bab al Bahr

Monumental Brunch will be happening across their 5 Restaurants, with a resident DJ grooving the tunes while you pick away from the live cooking stations, seafood bar and BBQ. Kidz Factory are providing the children’ entertainment as well as a dedicated kids buffet and Santa with gifts.

Prices starting from 485 AED, Children 6-12 240AED, Under 6 free

Timing: 12.30pm to 4pm

See full offer details for 2018 here

(Every time we have booked as a group at Fairmont we always get return vouchers to come back and use the pool!)

The Fairmont Bab al Bahr, Abu Dhabi | Discover the UAE Hotel Review | OurGlobetrotters.Com

Yas Hotel (formerly Viceroy – Yas Island)

Origins Restaurant will be serving a traditional roast with all the trimmings, a separate kids zone, bouncy castle, face painting and more!  In the past, Santa has turned up by race car around the Yas Marina Circuit, of course!

Prices starting from 395 AED per person, Children 6-12 195 AED

Timing: 12.30  – 4pm

See full offer details for 2018 here

Festive Bouncy Castle at Yas Viceroy hotel
Bouncy castle from a previous year Christmas brunch

Emirates Palace

They claim to have the most palatial spread in town at Le Vendome.

Prices starting from 450AED, children

See full offer details here for 2018

St Regis Abu Dhabi

Two options at their Corniche branch with Villa Toscana and normal Friday Brunch restaurant The Terrace on the Corniche.  Superb food selection, one of the best for foodies, including live entertainment.

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See our review of the regular Terrace on the Corniche Brunch & a Christmas Staycation here

Prices at The Terrace starting from 490 AED

Timing: 1pm to 4pm

See full offer details for 2018 here

 

St Regis Abu Dhabi during the Festive Season
Spectacular gingerbread creation in the St Regis foyer

St Regis Saadiyat – Olea

Enjoy the al fresco setting of Olea including live entertainment, live cooking stations, seafood, carving stations and heavenly dessert spread.

Prices starting from 380 AED, children 6-12 180AED, Under 6 free

Timing:  1pm-4pm

See full offer details for 2018 here

Jumeirah at Etihad Towers

One of the best views in the house from up top at the Nahaam Christmas Brunch. A seafood theme, DJ & Sax player along with Santa

Prices starting from 395 AED, children 4 to 11 years 150 AED, under 4 free

Timing: Lunch 12pm-3pm, dinner 7pm to 11.30pm

See full offer details here

Rosewood

There are quite a few options at the Rosewood this year including an outdoor Garden Brunch, Aqua Christmas Dinner and Sambusek Christmas Dinner.  Kids will have access to Rose Buds – kids club

Brunch pricing starting from 465 AED per adult, children 6-12 years 232 AED, under 6 free

Brunch timing 1pm to 4pm

See full offer details for 2018 here


Related Reading: Abu Dhabi’s Best Family-Friendly Brunches 


Christmas Turkey Takeaway

Still want Christmas at home but someone to help with the heavy lifting?  Why not look at some Turkey cooking (and delivery) options.

A sgtuffed Christmas Turkey | Popular Turkey ordering options in Abu Dhabi

These are just some of the venues we know will do a preparation service – though we are struggling to find ordering details for some.

You are best to call and get their packages and delivery timeframes.

  • Aloft Abu Dhabi (02 654 5193)
  • Anantara Eastern Mangroves – Ingredients (02 656 1166)
  • Beach Rotana (02 697 9011)
  • Emirate Palace – Le Cafe (02 690 7999)
  • Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi (02 657 4888)
  • Jim’s Kitchen Table(02 491 9401)
  • Jones the Grocer – Various locations (800jones@jonesthegrocer.com)
  • Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana – The Lounge (02 657 0167)
  • Le Meridien (Disc before 15 Dec; 02 644 6666)
  • Marriott Downtown – Central Grounds (02 304 7777)
  • Park Rotana (02 657 3319)
  • Ritz Carlton – Giornotte (02 818 8282)
  • St Regis Abu Dhabi (02 694 455)
  • St Regis Saadiyat – The Drawing Room (02 498 8888)
  • Saadiyat beach golf club – Hawksbill (02 499 8100)
  • Sheraton Abu Dhabi (02 677 3333)
  • Sofitel Abu Dhabi (02 813 7777)
  • Southern Sun Tsogo Sun – (02 818 4888)
  • Westin Festive Hampers (02 616 9999)
  • Yas Hotel (02 656 0600)

Make sure you book early as some of the best, most convenient meal time slots disappear early!

Most will require a min 72 hours notice and might give early bird booking discounts too.

Expect anywhere from 450 – 650 AED roughly depending on the size of the bird and trimmings (and from experience the trimmings are never enough vs size of the bird;  be prepared with emergency back up supplies)


Christmas Staycations

If you are seeking a “home away from home” here are a few options of resorts in the UAE that will include a special spread for Christmas to make it a truly unique event:

Ritz al Wadi Desert Resort

Head over to the beautiful deserts of Ras al Khaimah for a truly unique experience.  As well as your desert resort stay, there are two Christmas lunch dining choices in the Kaheela Restaurant or at the Farmhouse with magnificent Desert views.  Musical entertainment, Santa & his helpers and a live jazz band to set the tone.

Christmas Day Brunch, 295AED soft, 395AED Drinks.

Check here for current accommodation pricing for the Ritz over Christmas.

Ritz Al Wadi Desert Christmas

 


We talked about why the Ritz is one of our favourite Desert Resorts here


Qasr al Sarab, Liwa Desert

Anantara Qasr al Sarab Best desert resort in the UAE

Deep in the desert dunes, Qasr al Sarab is synonymous with desert luxury in the UAE, and what more unique way to celebrate the festive season than in the opulent surrounds of this desert resort.

Santa will arrive at Al Falaj, their Bedouin venue at 5.30pm followed by dinner at Al Waha from 540AED.

Alternatively, dine under the stars of the empty quarter with Jazz in the Dunes, an opulent Bedouin spread with live entertainment from 540AED, 7pm start.

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International Kids

There is also a lunch option for those with kiddy’s who would like to dine earlier at Ghadeer with a la carte menu.

Learn more about Qasr al Sarab Christmas Events Here  |  Check current prices for Christmas accommodation here

We will add more to this section as we receive news of Santas sightings around the UAE in 2018! 

Got overseas visitors to impress over Christmas?

There are two unique UAE events that coincide with Christmas that can add a wonderful local spin to your festive plans.  We recommend you add these to your visitor bucket list in December:

Al Dhafra Festival

The Al Dhafra Festival is held in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi every December (usually the last fortnight) to celebrate the culture and tradition of the Bedouin people.  Events range from date packing to goat milking, saluki racing to camel racing – but our favourite event and the one that draws competitors from across the region with huge tribal support and massive prize money is the Camel Mazayna – a camel beauty competition.

You’ve got to see it to believe it, an utterly unique and incredibly warm and welcoming event for foreigners to embrace more of the UAE culture.

You can read our tips for taking kids to the Al Dhafra Festival here, as well as a Beginners Guide to the Al Dhafra Festival (know thy camel!)

Al Dhafra Festival & the Camel Beauty Contest | Discover the UAE | OurGlobetrotters.Com

Zayed Heritage Festival

Returning again in 2018-19, the permanent grounds in Al Wathba just outside of Abu Dhabi city present a great opportunity to continue the festivities and traditions that surround National Day into the winter months.  Through song, dance, food and craft experience not only the UAE in depth but the international cultures that make up the country.

There are also modern elements including nightly light and laser shows, funfair, fireworks displays (Thu, Fri, Sat evenings 8pm) and a daily World Heritage Parade at 5pm.

This year’s Festival sees the addition of “The World in the UAE”, you will be able to see replicas of iconic international landmarks and world-famous cultural highlights, in addition to historic monuments and buildings from Emirati heritage. The festival is designed to promote Sheikh Zayed’s vision of building a modern state that promotes a unified culture of tolerance and peace in the world.

Held daily from 30 November 2018 to 26 January 2019, Al Wathba 

More of the UAE Outdoors

Don’t forget it’s also the coolest time of year in the UAE which makes it just perfect for getting out and exploring all over the Emirates without the stifling heat.  We have a bumper list of ideas on how to keep the whole family entertained outdoors on our sister website Family Travel in the Middle East

Make sure you grab your downloadable checklist to keep your winter months brimming with ideas.

Downloadable list of Abu Dhabi outdoor activities Winter 2018-19


More Abu Dhabi Expat Resources

Don’t forget to check out our full collection of articles about expat life in Abu Dhabi, including:

Got more questions or want to continue the conversation?  You can connect with the Globetrotters Page on Facebook, we also run a local kids activity page on Facebook called With the Kids to help stoke your weekend and after-school ideas in the UAE.


Helpful?  Bookmark this page or save it to Pinterest

How to celebrate Christmas in Abu Dhabi, UAE. An extensive listing of festive celebrations across all religions in the UAE capital every December

Do you have a favourite way to celebrate Christmas living in the UAE?  We’d love to hear more about how you celebrate abroad – or do you prefer to head home with family & friends each year?

Disclosure: This post is in no way sponsored by any of the places mentioned.  It is editorial content only, not a review or endorsement of any of the services. All opinions, as always, remain our own. This page contains some accommodation affiliate links that may provide a small commission to us if you make a booking, but at no extra cost to you.  You can see our full disclosure policy here.

 

1 Comment

  • This is just so amazing and the tips that you have mentioned for us really worth to plan the best celebration. I heard that people in UAE won’t celebrate the festival and i was thinking what to do because planning from Christmas to New Year, i have booked tickets to Dubai so had a second thought on listening that not celebrating the news. But thankfully you have noted something that boosted me again. Thanks for the info.

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