How to bring some seasonal magic to your expat posting 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?”.
Or are you seeking some winter sun over December and wondering if there will be any festive events going on in the UAE?
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 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 Markets & Events in Abu Dhabi
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.
This year they have added a Narnia-themed maze, along with a Candyland activity area for festive arts and crafts. Enjoy magical stage shows and visit Santa in his Grotto (you just need a receipt from a Galleria store of more than 25AED to get a free Santa snap – one of the best Santa’s in AD!).
Al Maryah Island. 5 to 24 December 2019. Activities 10am to 10pm; Santa’s Grotto 3pm to 9pm 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
Always one of the best days out on the Abu Dhabi social calendar, enjoy market vendors, school choirs, dance performances, cookie decoration, wishing tree and the famous Santa Chase (limited numbers, registration required, run by age groups)
Westin Hotel, Sas al Nakhl, Saturday 7 December 2019 from 12 noon. Learn more here
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. 4 to 7 December 2019 – variable daily timing, check here
Festive Family Fun Day at Saadiyat Beach Club
Includes a market, with various food and beverage offerings. Also running a Santa Chase event, pre-registration required (free entry if you register before 1 Dec).
Saadiyat Beach Club, from 12pm Saturday 14 December 2019. Learn more here
Al Muneera Beach Plaza Market
This seasonal market returns to the relaxed beachfront setting of Al Muneera. Enjoy crafts, food stalls and live entertainment every evening while watching the sunset over the water.
Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach, from Wednesday 11 until Saturday 14 December, 4pm until 10pm.
Sanderson’s Christmas Fair
One of Abu Dhabi’s favourite community cafe’s will play host to a festive fair with local handicrafts and plenty on offer by way of kids entertainment and great food in this one-day event.
Andalus at Al Seef Mall, near to Khalifa Park, 14 December 2019 8am to 10pm Learn more here
Abu Dhabi Mall Festive Market
A collection of 20+ stalls will be available this year, along with Santa photo sessions (see more below) and crafting workshops
Abu Dhabi Mall, 11 until 24 December- 11am to 9pm. Learn more here
St Josephs Christmas Festival
This annual parish event brings a whole day of festive activities, shopping bizarre, food stalls and fun activities for the kids.
St Josephs Cathedral, 17th Street, December 13 from 9am – Learn more here
Shams Boutik Winter Festival
Inside the “Waitrose Mall” on Reem Island there will be several days of festive fun including choir singers, gingerbread and cupcake-making activities and rumour has it the big man himself will be making an appearance though no confirmed times yet.
Sham Boutik, Reem Island 18-19th December 4pm to 10pm, 20-21Dec 5pm to 11pm
Le Royal Meridien Sing-Along with Mrs Claus
A great fun family afternoon in-store at the Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi, to be held over two weekends Saturday 23rd and 30th November.
Children will not only get a chance to sing along with Mrs Claus and her elves, but they can also write to Santa and have their photo taken, along with a festive-themed afternoon tea, ideal for those 3+.
YAS ISLAND CHRISTMAS EVENTS
Winter Carnival – back for its second year, you will find this large outdoor event held at Gateway Park South. Starts at 2pm daily and they will have a tree lighting ceremony every night at 7pm, followed by fireworks at 9pm. Running from 11 December to 15 December 2019.
Expect kids activities and rides (some paid), as well as a Christmas Market and entertainment including a snow zone. Learn more about the winter carnival here
ADULT CHRISTMAS EVENTS IN ABU DHABI
McGettigans Jumper party!
Pull out your bad taste jumper and time to party with your friends – a one-off drinks and dinner (adults only) from 7-11pm packages are 229AED or 209AED if you wear your Chrissy Jumper!
McGettigans, Raha Beach Hotel Wednesday 11 December 2019. Learn More Here
Ugly Christmas Sweater Party
Another one for some adult fun, the top 2 ugliest will win a prize, beverage packages available.
Novotel Al Bustan, Friday 20th December from 7pm. Learn more here
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. Held on Friday 6 December 2019. Event details will be updated on their Facebook page here.
You will also find carolers at many of the tree lighting events and Christmas Day Brunches we list below.
Tree Lighting Ceremonies in Abu Dhabi
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
4 December 2019 (Wednesday)
- Dusit Thani 6pm onward
5 December 2019 (Thursday)
- Abu Dhabi Golf Club 6pm (followed by dinner & live entertainment)
- Le Meridien 6-7pm with Ginger Bread Factory
- Radisson Blu Yas Island 6pm
- Shangri-La 7.30pm
- Sofitel 6pm
6 December 2019 (Friday)
- The Ritz-Carlton Venetian Village 7pm (followed by Dine & Design
7 December 2019 (Saturday)
- Saadiyat Beach Club from 6pm
- Grand Millennium Al Wadha 6-8pm
8 December 2019 (Sunday)
- Le Royal Meridien from 7-11pm
9 December 2019 (Monday)
- Bab al Qasr Hotel 6.30pm
10 December (Tuesday)
- Anatara Christmas Tree Lighting 6-8pm
11 December (Wednesday)
- Galleria Mall, Al Maryah Island 6pm
12 December (Thursday)
- Al Diar Mina Hotel
5, 12, 19 & 24 December 2019
- Jumeirah Saadiyat Island Loving the Festive Lights 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.
Where to get a photo with Santa in Abu Dhabi 2019
Other than at the events mentioned above, you should find a regular Santas for photo opportunities at:
- Abu Dhabi Mall – Winter Village 11 to 25 December 2019; 11am to 3pm and 4pm to 8pm
- Galleria Mall – Santa’s Grotto from 5 to 24 December 2019; 3pm to 9pm (photo included with 25AED Galleria receipt)
- World Trade Centre Mall – dates TBC
- Yas Mall – Santa’s Grotto 12 to 24 December – exact opening times TBC
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.
Gingerbread activities in Abu Dhabi
- Radisson Blu Gingerbread house making 7 December 1-4pm, 225AEDpp [last booking 25 December] Email Here
- Sheraton – Gingerbread Factory 7 December 4pm-6pm 125AED
- Le Meridien Ginger-bread Factory, 5 December 4-6pm, 99AEDpp. Email Here
- The Ritz Carlton Dolce Cafe Gingerbread house decorating, 15 December to 5 January daily (excl 25th) 4-5pm 175AED per house [or pre-made options for purchase 150AED]
- Anantara Eastern Mangroves – Gingerbread House Making 15 December 5-7pm 150AED per kit
- Saadiyat Rotana – Build your Ginger Bread House 15-25 December 2-6pm 70AEDpp
- Jones the Grocer – Kids Festive Classes Gingerbread House Building and Decorating 19 December 4pm, 149AED for 2 hours. Learn more
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.
Festive afternoon Teas in Abu Dhabi
A new sensation in Abu Dhabi is enjoying an afternoon tea in the lead up to Christmas, why not try some of this offering:
- Al Meylas at Four Seasons – 3pm-7pm Daily, 250AED
- Alba at The Ritz Carlton – 15 December to 5 Janaury 2pm to 5pm, 160AED per stand
- Jumeirah at Etihad Towers – Observation Deck 250AEDpp, Lobby Lounge, 220pp
- Saadiyat Rotana – 7 December to 7 January 3-6pm, 185AED per couple
- Lobby Lounge Marriott Al Forsan – 6 December to 31 December 2.30pm to 5.30pm 195AED per couple
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.
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)
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 dessert room, including Santa arriving on camelback, 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
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.
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
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.
Prices starting from 390 AED(soft) 490AED house beverages, children 6-12 180 AED, Children under 5 70AED
Timing: 12.30pm – 4pm
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, a 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
(Every time we have booked as a group at Fairmont we always get return vouchers to come back and use the pool!)
Yas Hotel (formerly Viceroy – soon to be W! – 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
They claim to have the most palatial spread in town at Le Vendome.
Prices starting from 450AED, children
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.
Prices at The Terrace starting from 490 AED
Timing: 1pm to 4pm
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
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
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
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.
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.
- Abu Dhabi City Golf Club 19th Street (02 445 9600)
- Abu Dhabi Golf Club (056 536 2230)
- Al Maha Arjaan Cafe 302 (02 610 6666)
- Aloft Abu Dhabi (02 654 5193)
- Anantara Eastern Mangroves – Ingredients (02 656 1166)
- Beach Rotana (02 697 9011)
- Belgian Beer Cafe – Radisson Blu Yas Island (02 656 2406)
- Courtyard by Marriott 5th Street Cafe (02 698 2222)
- Dusit Thani – Urban Kitchen (02 698 8137)
- Emirate Palace – Le Cafe (02 690 7999)
- Four Seasons – Crust (02 333 2222)
- Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi (02 657 4888)
- Jim’s Kitchen Table(02 491 9401)
- Jones the Grocer – Various locations (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana – The Lounge (02 657 0167)
- Le Meridien Latest Recipe (Disc before 10 Dec) (02 644 6666)
- Le Royal Meridien – Wheat (02 674 2020)
- 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 Club (02 656 3555)
- Saadiyat Beach Golf Club – Hawksbill (02 499 8100)
- Saadiyat Rotana (02 697 000)
- Sheraton Abu Dhabi (02 677 3333)
- Sofitel Abu Dhabi (02 813 7777)
- Southern Sun – Filaments (02 818 4888)
- The One Bistro (02 641 1040)
- Westin – The Lounge Festive Hampers (02 616 9999)
- W Abu Dhabi – W Lounge (02 656 0600)
Make sure you book early as some of the best, most convenient mealtime slots disappear early!
Most will require a min 72 hours notice up to 7 days and might give early bird booking discounts too.
Expect anywhere from 450 – 695 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)
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.
Qasr al Sarab, Liwa Desert
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.
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
Barracuda Beach Resort, Umm al Quwain
Celebrating their 25th anniversary this December, Barracuda in Umm al Quwain has your Christmas sorted – from your beverages down to your real Christmas trees and Panettone.
Well worth a drive up the highway, you can make it a day trip to pick up your supplies, or stay and enjoy a weekend staycation at the newly refurbished Barracuda Beach Resort with discounted tickets to the adjacent Dreamland waterpark.
We will add more to this section as we receive news of Santas sightings around the UAE in 2019!
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!)
Held daily from 9 December to 24 December 2019, Western Region
Zayed Heritage Festival
Held 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.
Held 29 November through to 1 February 2020 | Learn more here
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.
More Abu Dhabi Expat Resources
Don’t forget to check out our full collection of articles about expat life in Abu Dhabi, including:
- Family Guide to Living in Abu Dhabi
- Where to stay in Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi’s best apart-hotels for groups & longer stays
- 100+ Family things to do in the UAE
- Best Abu Dhabi outdoor spaces
- Best Abu Dhabi indoor playspaces
- A guide to British International Schools in Abu Dhabi
- Beginners guide to desert & beach camping in the UAE & Oman
- Family Travel in the Middle East Group – a separate Facebook community group for regional travel ideas with kids.
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
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.