Three Western expatriates share a few unique memories of spending Christmastime in Oman
While large numbers of Christian expatriates in the sultanate shuffle towards their hometowns around the world during Christmas every year, scores of others stay back due to a range of compulsions. Nevertheless, they make the most of the festive season with warm exchanges with friends and folks in Oman. Three long-timers in the sultanate recall a few happy memories of spending Chirstmastime in Oman:
Never missed the snow of England
Early Christmases in Oman were spent with colleagues, visiting family and friends at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel with a traditional Christmas lunch with all the trimmings followed by the novelty of the arrival of Santa on a camel.
We arrived in Oman from a cold and snowy England in January 1990.
During the Gulf War, hotel occupancy was low and room rates very economical. At that time, at the Al Bustan, guests could opt for European or an Arabic style room with decorated with beautiful Isfahan tiles (which we always preferred).
The British Embassy carol service was a highlight of the festive season. It was held in the cobbled courtyard between the residence of the British ambassador and the British Embassy compound in old Muscat. We were always exhorted to ‘sing up’ so that the carols could be heard in the Al Alam Palace next door.
Other early Christmases were spent camping or boating, often with family visiting from the UK. I remember Dick Carrington, then CEO of OIG, and Commander at the Capital Area Yacht Club bobbing about in the sea in his Santa Hat. Swimming in warm water during Christmas was all part of the novelty of Christmas celebrated in a warm climate.
Christmas in the West has become increasingly commercialised over the years and the true spiritual meaning is often lost. In contrast, Christmas in Oman, a tolerant Muslim country, is very refreshing and people are free to celebrate as much or as little as they choose. It should be a time giving and helping those who are less fortunate.
It also a time for remembering family and friends. It used to be a huge task to write and post cards and letters around the world but with the advent (excuse the pun) of social media this has become much easier.
In 1990 we put up and decorated a real Christmas tree from Muttrah Cold Stores in my office at SQU. This caused a bit of a stir among both the students and the staff. Oman is a diverse, tolerant country and it is clear that everyone enjoys celebrating everything and there are now Christmas trees in all the large hotels.
Thirty years on. the British Business Forum will celebrate with carols and traditional fayre at the Al Bustan Palace, now a Ritz Carlton Hotel. I never miss the cold or the snow and relish the true warmth and traditions of Christmas in Oman.
Limited audience, long-lasting performance
Former Ambassador of United States to Oman
I assumed my assigned seat well before the scheduled performance, allowing ample time to review the impressive list of songs and commentary on the colourful programme. The special show had a limited audience and I had my camcorder at hand to record it.
I was neither in the opera house nor attending one of Mrs Brinks’ wonderful International Festival of Choirs performances at TAISM. No, this show was at home in the US Ambassador’s residence and the singers were three little girls dressed in red, white and green and bursting with holiday cheer – our daughters Krisztina, Josephine and Natalie.
The other members of the audience included my wife Eszter, my father and the residence staff. I knew that the girls had been practising the 40-plus minute show for weeks and were eager to sing a variety of songs a cappella from ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed3 Reindeer’ to ‘Silent Night’, and to perform few short holiday-themed skits that they wrote.
That was more than fifteen years ago. Those three little girls have graduated from TAISM and attended universities in Buffalo, Princeton and Los Angeles. Yet, irrespective of their geographical dispersal, they have always returned to Oman for Christmas without fail.
Although we no longer enjoy annual performances, we are blessed with Vanessa, our fourth daughter, as we celebrate the holiday in Muscat. Indeed, Christmas remains synonymous with family, love, friendship, and togetherness.
We wish good health and holiday happiness to all of our friends and colleagues in the sultanate and beyond.
My fortieth Christmas in Oman
Judith Razek, MBE
It seems as if the world is full of problems right now and we, in Oman, are living in an oasis of calm, tolerance and hope and friendship. Those who wish to celebrate Christmas are at liberty to do so in any way they choose.
The Christmas spirit is alive and well here in the sultanate. Hotels seem to be vying with one another to display the biggest ever Christmas trees and the best Yuletide. Wonderful carol singers fill our hearts with joy whether we understand the words or not. Shops are aglitter with tempting gifts.
Family members are arriving daily now to spend Christmas here together.
This will be my fortieth Christmas in Oman and I can hardly find words to tell you how lucky I feel. Our two boys have always spent Christmas here and will do so again this year.
It’s true that Christmases were wonderful in England in my youth and when I first came to Oman I couldn’t imagine spending Christmas away from home.
But Oman has become home.
Cards have begun arriving in my post box, displaying robins on snow-covered branches, sleigh rides, Father Christmas and his merry elves and lots more. I love them. I love the pictures, but I’m very happy to be here in Oman.
Forty years ago, Christmas in Oman was very different. Our water came in a tanker, electricity was intermittent, there was no internet and no shopping malls, but it was as joyful as it is today. Warm wishes to everyone.