Friday, December 17, 2010

Dear Santa...

My first Christmas! Here with mum and my brother Emile
Welcome to Dubai! I thought I spotted you waterskiing into town. Have you and the reindeer decided to spend this Christmas on the beach, in the sun? I don’t blame you.

Don’t worry; this isn’t an added list of presents to the millions you’ve already received. You see I’m fortunate. I’m in good health, on my two feet, I have a loving family and great friends and I’ve just been on holiday. What more can I ask for?

Although we never lived in a house with a chimney, I’m sure, Santa, you must have visited us because I found pictures -- old pictures -- of presents under the Christmas tree. These photos of Christmases past make quite a contrast with those taken today, where the trees and presents have multiplied in size and quantity.

Christmas isn’t about presents for me. There was never much money for gifts. Invariably, I used to get my dad, Esa, pipe cleaners, and not necessarily a whole pack. My mum, Vicky, was easy. She collected so many things. She treasured any small item found in the flea markets -- even the kitchen knife with a white handle. I can’t remember any of mine though.

My second Christmas, in Jeddah
Christmas for the family was about attending midnight mass, getting together and inviting friends to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us, especially those away from home.
Dear Santa,

I don’t know if you made it to Beirut during the civil war years. But those Christmases were often filled with fear, without electricity and water, but still anticipated because we had survived yet another year. We always celebrated Christmas Eve with my friends Yorki and Zepure Mansour (see “Soulmates for life” post, 2 November) and Christmas Day with Yorki’s family -- his late mother Imm Elias, his sisters Katy and Mary, and Mary’s children Rabih and Reem. Again it isn’t the presents that come to mind, but the simple joy of being with loved ones, although my sister Asma and brother Emile were never with us.

London at Christmastime was next... Everything goes into slow motion there starting December 1. Decorations are up from October so when you get to Christmas Day, you just want the fuss to end. And the queues in the supermarkets! I must have been the only person to lose weight over Christmas from being put off by the quantity of food and drink people buy.

And although my London sidewalk café, Picasso (see “My sidewalk cafés” post, 28 September), closed on December 25, I’d spend Christmas Eve there with the habitués and the staff. Christmas Day was with Emile, his wife Sally and children Emma and Jack before joining my adopted family for Christmas Day dinner. And I always managed to get some “takeaway” Christmas pudding and mince pies to last me for the rest of Christmas week. 

My fifth Christmas in Baghdad, with Emile and Asma
Luckily, my adopted family has also moved to Dubai and we continue to be together on Christmas Day. And with my friends on Twitter, we started a new tradition last year of celebrating Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve at our favorite fish restaurant, Bu Qtair. It’s simple, in a sandpit opposite the beach. It overlooks Burj al-Arab, so we get to watch the fireworks free. We gather all those who are alone in Dubai, or at loose ends, and enjoy the best fish in town. This year, my friend Paul Castle (@DaddyBird) has put out the invite and we are all looking forward to December 24 and December 31.

Dear Santa,

All this to say that maybe this year -- just maybe -- you could remove one present from each of your letters and recycle it to those children who don’t have much, who are sick or in hospital or whose parents can’t afford to get them presents, in the spirit of “Do they know it’s Christmas.” It’s just a thought…

And if you’re still in Dubai next Friday, Santa, please join us for some festive merrymaking. You can park the sleigh and reindeers on the beach.

Merry Christmas, Santa. Ho, ho, ho…