If you think Christmas is a chore at home, try conjuring up a bit of Christmas atmosphere in Doha.
Doesn’t help things that every time you ring home hear that adage, ‘it doesn’t feel a bit Christmassy this year’. And I’m thinking really? doesn’t feel a bit Christmassy? There was a whole event around the switching on of the Christmas Lights on Patrick Street on the 19thNovember. The whole city centre is tastefully decorated and a line of inviting shop fronts, like Debenhams, Brown Thomas and my own favourite, Penney’s. Dancing Santa’s, pop up grottos, jingling bells punctuated only by even more invited cosy pubs playing Christmas background music. Off the main strip, a mile (must be nearly) long Oliver Plunkett Street, jam packed with more nice businesses, cafes with festive specialities on the menu and what, more cosy pubs. Off that street there are several smaller streets, also tipping their hats to Christmas and leading onto South Mall, a picture-perfect Christmas scene and right in the middle, Souths.
Throw a stone in any direction and there’s Lidl, Aldi, Dunnes, Super Valu and Tesco, flogging every conceivable Christmas goodie you can imagine, from organic Goose Fat to readymade hors d’oeuvres, six-euro prosecco, good value red, puddings, cakes and crackers all there, and for reasonable prices.
Entertainment; for under 200 euro, the smallies, parents and granny can go to FotaBeyond for day, experience a truly magical Christmas experience without having to incur a flight to Lapland. In every shopping centre, around there’s a Santy, no excuse not to get to see him. Christmas parties are rife and all you need to do is turn up with a sparkly top and a smile and you’re sure to have a good time and leave it to the schools, that put on the Christmas Concert, the highlight of every family’s Christmas. Smyths is open probably 27 hours a day and the staff speak English, so please, please do not when I ring you up from Doha, tell me that ‘it doesn’t feel a bit Christmassy’.
Not a bit Christmassy feels like somewhere between 22 and a glorious 27 degrees Celsius. There’s a residue of sand in the air though so between chest infections and asthma getting out and about doesn’t happen as readily as you may think. Not a bit Christmassy feels like no Christmas music, no laughing Santa’s, no grotto and no bonanza toy shop events. Not a bit Christmassy also feels like one shelf with a few tired looking alcohol-free Christmas cakes tucked away in the corner of Marks and Spencer’s. Battered and bruised from their long trip east and they still command a hefty price tag as us Catholic expats are forced by tradition and heritage to buy them, whatever the cost.
Nevertheless, I plunge forward, adamant to make a Christmas where really, there is none. My first task was to nail my six-year-old to a Pokémon Jumbo card. For parents of Pokémon fans they will understand that stress of having your child be enthralled in a toy (if Pokémon cards are a toys) that you do not understand and cannot pronounce. He pointed to Solgaleo GX Jumbo card on the shelf and I was quick, ‘so that’s what you want Santy to bring for Christmas’ I said smiling knowingly at the Indian shop assistant. And in the high pitched, ‘mom is talking loud so people can hear voice’ I said, ‘well we’ll just say goodbye to it today and hopefully Santa will deliver it at Christmas’ distinctly getting the impression that the Indian shop assistant wasn’t picking up, I turned to him and with a wide smile I said, ‘we think Santa will get this for Christmas, we are going now, I may be back later’. Holding my stare and smiling expectantly. The penny dropped, he realised this wasn’t a normal way for someone to speak and his eyes said ‘aha, I get you now’ but his voice said, ‘very funny ma’am,Santa Clos not real only funny man for children’. My six-year-old finding it hard to focus on anything else when Pokémon is in close proximity, didn’t hear thankfully and we hurriedly left. See that, that is what I call not a bit Christmassy!