December 2, National Day, in the UAE. On that date in 1971, six sheikhdoms (soon to be seven) on the tip of the Arabian peninsula decided to come together as a country. The Brits were pulling out of the Gulf, and it seemed like a good idea to team up.
National Day. When the UAE became the world’s third country with “United” in its name, after the United States and United Kingdom.
–National Day seems to be becoming a bigger deal, as we go along. More of everything. More lights, more fireworks, more flags, more tributes (and you can see some of them in this slide show). My first National Day here, in 2009, I was impressed by the crush of happy people. The decorated cars. Kids hanging out windows and standing in sun roofs shooting Silly String. Doing silly things.
Not long ago, an Australian in our newsroom pretty much nailed it. “It’s the one day when Emiratis let their hair down.” In public, anyway.
–The fireworks have shown up. In 2009, we spent hours out on the Corniche, here in Abu Dhabi, waiting for the fireworks to start. They were late and they were lame. The slide show (above) has one photo with better fireworks than anything we saw three years ago.
–The expat reaction to National Day is interesting. Into it. Sorta. A little. None of the expats ever will be citizens, so a disconnect there. But it is a party. There’s that. We live here, and we know it’s a two-day holiday … and some go out and some do not.
As we were riding home in the taxi tonight, the Indian cabbie mentioned the gridlock on the Corniche, and expressed pleasure that he was heading away from it — not towards it. Nothing worse for a cab driver than to be struck in traffic.
–It’s really interesting to remember that thousands of people in this country remember when it was born. In U.S. terms, 41 years into nationhood … takes you to the year 1817. And I’m not sure a single American is still alive who lived in the final years of the 19th century, let alone the early years of it.
Emiratis skew young. It is rare to see an old person. But you can be 50 and a UAE citizen and still remember that first night. Like being in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. Except it was even more clear cut, in an age of television and radio. (Getting the news out in 1776 … took a while.)
Anyway, a bit weird to be in a country so young that it still is not hard to find people who were there at the beginning.
This was the 41st National Day, and 41 is not a particularly interesting number, aside from it being a prime. Can’t even think of a prominent athlete who wears 41.
The 40th National Day was big last year … and as the celebrations become more pronounced, 50 will be really big. I won’t be here to see it, but some of the OGs of the UAE will be.