With residents adhering to the UAE’s #StayHome directive, religious festivals in April are a low-key, family affair. As a precautionary measure against the spread of Covid-19, all places of worship have been shut until further notice. Social gatherings associated with the festivals are off the table and families have devised innovative ways to celebrate.
Dressing up, virtual Mass for Easter
Canadian expat in Dubai Rohini Caesar refuses to let the disease dampen the spirit of Easter. Though they will be at home, the expat, her two daughters, husband and mother will dress up for the occasion.
For the festival, the family usually visits St. Francis of Assisi church in Jebel Ali, meeting friends and relatives. This year, they will instead tune in to Easter services from home.
“It definitely feels different, but we will have to watch the service on YouTube this time due to obvious constraints. As flights were suspended, my mother is around for Easter and that makes me happy. After that, we intend to take a family picture. We will then meet our relatives virtually through video conferencing.”
Rohini is thankful that she is in the UAE as supplies for a special meal are still available in the city’s supermarkets. “In many other countries, I’ve heard there is a beeline for grocery supplies and huge backlogs. But here, I easily got my ingredients from the nearby supermarket. I will be preparing traditional Canadian and Anglo-Indian dishes. Earlier, my three-year-old daughter and I made some sugar cookies together. Later, for the feast, I’ll prepare a sweet potato pie and baked chicken.”
In an interesting twist to the celebrations, Rohini’s five-year-old pooch will substitute for the Easter bunny. “Ramsee will be dressed up as the folkloric figure this year and my daughter Hayley will go on an egg hunt in the backyard,” she said.
Similarly, the Renauds from Germany admit that it feels different this year. While striving to keep the tradition alive with beautiful table decorations, they are aiming for the perfect indoor Easter.
Celebrating at home, with no big Easter brunch , no meeting up with friends, and no barbecue in the desert, Beate said: “Last two years we were travelling around this time. This year, we will do video calls on BOTIM and Zoom with family and friends instead.”
Her children, 8 and 12, were occupied over the weekend painting Easter eggs. The family watched the Mass on Saturday night. “It’s done in our native language by the German pastor Moritz Drucker.”
No lavish sadhya for Vishu
The festival of Vishu is usually celebrated with a lot of fanfare. This year, however, it will be celebrated within the homes of the Malayali expatriate community.
The New Year festival of the south Indian state of Kerala typically sees a lavish sadhya (meal) prepared. However, many Malayalis are opting for a simple meal.
Sheeja Venu Nair, a resident, said: “There is no room for celebration this time. We want it to be a low-key affair. We are not preparing any grand meals. Instead, we as a family are focusing on offering the Vishukkani (ritual arrangement of auspicious articles) for frontline medics and heathcare workers helping Covid-19 patients.”
Even though the festival won’t be as grand, the Sharjah-based family will uphold certain traditions. “The plea for ‘kaineetam’ starts early as the children begin asking and anticipating from whom they would get money. So, while they look forward to getting some ‘kaineetam’ from their parents, I, in turn, look forward to receiving something from my husband,” laughed Sheeja.
For Sangeetha Swaroop, Vishu at home means extra time with her family. “Work pressure has reduced for me now, so I am trying to prepare a sadhya for my children with whatever is available in the grocery stores. Typically, you prepare around 24-28 dishes served as a single course. But there is no point in preparing so much food as nobody from outside will be coming.”
Normally, hypermarkets across the UAE display traditional items brought from Kerala to arrange the kani kanal (arrangements for the first sight). People wait in long queues at special sections at hypermarkets to buy items.
“This time, I don’t think even the yellow ‘kanni konna’ flowers will be available. In fact, most people will not wear ‘kodi vastram’ (new clothes) as shops remain closed,” Sangeetha added.
Pohela Boishakh and Vaisakhi retain the sweet touch
Dubai expat and a Bengali, Mona Chatterjee is cooking a sumptuous true-blue ‘Bangali’ style meal for her family. With her children and husband home this year, she is trying to make the most of Pohela Boishakh (Bengali New Year).
“What’s Pohela Boishakh without new clothes, binge eating and evening soirées? But I am focusing on some good family time instead, by preparing an authentic Bong lunch with the ultimate ‘mishti doi’ for dessert.”
As cities, regions and entire countries enact emergency measures, Mona feels it’s imperative to adapt to the situation. “The Bengali New Year usually falls on April 14 or April 15. So tomorrow, all my cousins from India and elsewhere will log on to Zoom and sing together. We intend to record those moments and then by Monday, we will post it online on our social media platforms.”
Dubai-based Punjabis are celebrating the harvest festival differently this year. Arti Trehan said: “We can’t go to the Gurudwara but I will be preparing the traditional sweet rice (meethe chawal) at home this year. I would urge people to open their wallets and hearts to address the most pressing needs with organisations working for marginalized communities. Let’s celebrate Vaisakhi by helping others.”