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When traveling or moving to another country, it is important for tourists and expats to get acquainted with the lifestyle and traditions of the local population. The UAE is a Muslim country, and almost all public holiday days here are religious. The calendar of holidays in this region differs from the one in English-speaking countries as the Muslim celebration dates are determined by the Lunar Hijri calendar and change every year in Gregorian one. This article contains all the necessary information about national and public holidays in the UAE with dates and descriptions.
At the end of 2020, the UAE government announced on its official website a calendar of official holidays and weekends for the two years ahead. Due to the effects on the economy caused by the pandemic in 2020, the state announced a minimum set of weekends in 2021 and 2022 in order to restore the growth rate of the country’s economy.
The UAE is a religious state, and most holidays here are Islamic. The dates of celebration days, annual period of fasting and the specific time for Hajj are determined according to the Muslim calendar, which is also called the Hijri, Islamic or Arabic. The beginning of the Hijri yearly calendar started in 622 AD due to the migration of the Prophet Muhammad and the first Muslims from Mecca to Medina.
The Muslim calendar is divided into 12 lunar months, tracked by moon phases, and consists of 29 or 30 days. In all, there are 354 or 355 days in a year and generally, all events occur about 10 or 11 days earlier than under the Gregorian since the Gregorian year has 365/366 days. Because of this, the dates of religious holidays and solemn days are shifted in dates each year.
There is a 578-year difference between the Muslim and Gregorian calendars. And only in the year 20,874 AD (Anno Domini), it will also be 20,874 AH (Anno Hegirae). Events, according to the Islamic lunar calendar, occur every year about 10 or 11 days earlier compared to the Gregorian one, as there are 365/366 days in the Gregorian year and 354/355 in the Hijri one. Because of this, the dates of religious festivals and celebration days are shifted by date annually.
Not all holidays in the country are declared weekends as the UAE government changes the list every year. In some cases, it is possible to postpone the ‘feast’ days if they fall on Friday or Saturday (weekends in the UAE). In 2021 and 2022 both the public and private sectors will have an equal number of official holidays.
The list of public holidays in the UAE includes both secular and religious celebrations. The national holidays in the UAE are celebration days that have a special historical significance for the state. The reason for the appearance of such days are the special events that have influenced the development of the country’s statehood and independence.
The celebration of national holidays in the UAE is accompanied by official festivals. Secular holidays are tied to the Gregorian calendar and have fixed dates. The days of religious Muslim holidays are determined by the lunar calendar and change annually.
Flag day is celebrated every year on November 3. At exactly 11:00 AM, the national flag begins to fly atop government and private buildings in the UAE. The main purpose of the holiday is to consolidate national identity and unity. In addition, this day marks the anniversary of the accession to the throne of the President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Annually, on November 3, residents of the country pay tribute to the founding fathers of the state.
Since 2019, Celebration Day has been celebrated on December 1, up until this point, it was celebrated on November 30. The date of the celebration was postponed so that Celebration Day and National Day would follow each other. The Celebration Day is dedicated to all Emiratis who died for the freedom of their country. On December 1, from 08:00 to 11:00 AM, national flags are lowered all over the country, and at 11:30 a minute of silence is held, followed by the national anthem.
The National Day of the UAE is one of the main holidays in the country, which falls on December 2 and is celebrated over two days: December 2 and 3. It was on this day in 1971 that the rulers of each emirate signed an agreement on the creation of a single state – the United Arab Emirates. The holiday marks the official nationalization of the UAE.
In honour of the holiday, celebrations are held throughout the city like concerts, cultural and entertainment events, prize draws, special holiday discounts in stores and shopping malls. “Spirit of the Union” is the official theme for the celebration of UAE National Day. All buildings of the country’s cities are dressed in the colors of the UAE flag: red, white, green and black. On December 2, 2021, the country will celebrate its golden anniversary of 50 years.
For the celebration of Gregorian New Year, the residents of Dubai have only one day off on 1 January. January 2 is a working day, except if this day falls on Friday and Saturday (weekends in the UAE).
The central place for celebrating the Gregorian New Year in Dubai is Downtown Dubai. A fireworks show and a laser show are arranged here. Lasers project an image onto the surface of the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa with the spectacle being shown across the globe when the clock strikes midnight.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar Muslim calendar. This is a holy month for Muslims, in which fasting is observed. Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn to dusk, and are allowed to eat only after sunset.
Many cafes and restaurants stop working during the daytime during Ramadan and open only after sunset. Tourists and representatives of other religions are advised to refrain from eating in a public place during daylight hours. In 2021, the holy month fell between April 13 – May 12 according to the Gregorian calendar. In 2022, it will fall between the period f of April 2 to May 1. During Ramadan, weekends are not announced for state institutions.
This holiday is also called “Ramadan Bayram”. Eid Al Fitr is a holiday in honour of the end of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Eid Al Fitr is celebrated on the first day of the month of Shawwal. In the Gregorian calendar, Eid Al Fitr in 2021 was celebrated on May 12, and in 2022 this date will fall on May 3. The weekend is usually appointed on the 30th day of the month of Ramadan, which is the first day of the month of Shawwal (Eid Al Fitr day) and the day following it. The UAE Cabinet has announced the holidays for both the public and private sector for the years 2021 and 2022:
It is customary to start the holiday with a solemn prayer in the morning and then, in the afternoon, a solemn dinner is arranged with the family. There are festive promotions in shopping malls and supermarkets across the country during the celebration of Eid Al Fitr.
Arafah Day is celebrated on the second day of the pilgrimage to Mecca. This is an official holiday in the UAE, but there aren’t mass celebrations on this day. According to the Gregorian calendar, Arafah Day is celebrated on July 19 in 2021 and on July 9 in 2022. On this festive day, pilgrims go to the Arafa Hill, where Prophet Muhammad preached his last sermon before his death. Pilgrims near the hill pray and are cleansed of their sins.
The Eid Al Adha holiday is also known as the Feast of Sacrifice. The holiday is celebrated just after Arafah Day. According to the UAE Cabinet, the dates of the celebration of Eid Al Adha in 2021 are July 20-22, and in 2022 – July 9-11. The weekend generally lasts for four days: Arafah Day (one day) and Eid Al Adha (three days).
On this day, Muslims perform an additional morning prayer. Mass events and children’s holidays in the open air are held all over the country and fireworks are launched in the evening. On this day, it is customary to sacrifice a ram (or a camel, cow, buffalo, sheep or goat). It is also customary to keep a third of the meat of the sacrificed animal for oneself, give a third to relatives and friends and donate a third to the poor.
The Islamic New Year takes place on the first day of the month of Muharram. Hijri New Year fell on August 10 in the Gregorian calendar in 2021 and will fall on July 30 in 2022. On the first day of the month of Muharram, no alcohol is sold and mass events are not held either. Muslims are recommended to spend the day in prayers and reflections. The month of Muharram is the first month of the Muslim calendar. According to beliefs, the way a person spends the first month of the year, will reflect on how they spend all the other twelve months.
A weekend is announced in the UAE in honour of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday holiday, but lavish events are not arranged and niether are they encourgaed. Another name of the holiday is Mawlid. On this day, lectures and seminars on religious topics are organized for young people. Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in 2021 is celebrated on October 21 and in 2022 – on October 8.
Not all holidays in the UAE are declared official weekends for public institutions, such as schools, banks, kindergartens and so on. Every year, the list of official weekends is changed by the government of the country.
Holiday calendar for public institutions for 2021:
Holiday calendar for public institutions for 2022:
The Academic Calendar for Schools 2021-2022:
The academic calendar of schools for 2022-2023:
Since the majority of the population in the UAE are expats, in addition to religious and national holidays, celebrations such as Women’s Day and St. Peter’s Day are also celebrated here, as well as St. Patrick’s day and Christmas.
Art exhibitions and dinners in restaurants are especially organized around the country on this day. For example, a pop up art exhibition was held in Abu Dhabi and all females were treated to complimentary coffee in honour of the holiday. At the exhibition, visitors could get acquainted with work of art by artists such as Gemma Gallagher, Yasmin Hamadi, Fatima Al Dhamash and Holtz Javier. Some beauty salons also held various promotions for ladies in honour of International Women’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is a popular celebration day among all residents, although it is not an official holiday of the UAE. Major cities, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are decorated with flowers and balloons. Many restaurants organize special offers for a romantic dinner. Some of the best places to celebrate Valentine’s Day are the CÉ LA VI rooftop restaurant, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa and Anantara The Palm Resort. All destinations are located in Dubai.
Dubai is the most multicultural city in the UAE, so various celebrations are held in the emirate in honour of the holiday. A huge Christmas tree with decorations is installed in the center of the Dubai Mall as well as in many hotels. Seasonal gifts, tinsel and trinkets can be found on the shelves of retail stores in almost all shopping malls in Dubai. Residents can visit the Yule markets and fairs, where they can buy unique gifts and Christmas treats. The UAE is a religiously tolerant country, thanks to which the representatives of other religions can find many churches across the country, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Many establishments in the UAE offer an entertainment programme on the day of Easter. Restaurants offer a special menu for family dinners in honour of the holiday and additional entertainment for children, such as an Easter egg colouring station, a screening of children’s films and arts and crafts classes. Egg hunting is also a popular activity, which is arranged in hotels all over the country.
On March 17, 2021 some establishments in the UAE will illuminate themselves in a green colour in recognition of the most famous Irishman in the world. A special Irish Riverdance show at The Palm Fountain in Dubai was held in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. The biggest fountain in the world was lit up in green and dancers danced to classic Riverdance songs from the traditional Irish theatrical show. The event was free of charge.
The best restaurants to celebrate this holiday in Dubai include Bla Bla, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes, Garden on 8, Seafire Steakhouse and so on. The establishments offer a special menu with traditional Irish dishes on St. Patrick’s Day.
The celebration of Halloween begins in the UAE almost a week before October 31. Themed events and parties are organized for both children and adults. Entertainment at children’s events includes awards for the best costume, arts and crafts, games and dancing. Decorations for Halloween can be purchased in special party stores or even in supermarkets. Children’s and adult costumes can also be purchased at party shops.
The celebration of Thanksgiving Day usually includes a meeting of families and friends over a delicious dinner, the obligatory dish of which is roast turkey. But people can also celebrate this holiday in restaurants that offer a special menu on this day. The best places for Thanksgiving dinner in Dubai are Chicago Meatpackers, Perry & Blackwelder’s, Brunch & Cake, Marea, Counter Culture Café and Hell’s Kitchen Dubai.
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