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Holidays in UAE 2021-2022

Published 09.09.2021

What holidays are celebrated in the UAE

Europeans and Americans will find the UAE calendar of holidays noticeably different from the calendar of their own country.
For instance, the New Year is officially celebrated in the UAE twice: on January 1, as with the rest of the world (according to the Gregorian calendar), and then there is Islamic New Year as well, the date of which varies according to the moon sighting. Getting to know the dates of public holidays in the UAE is useful not only for those who relocate to Dubai to live and work but for tourists as well. It will help them to plan a trip during the period of festivities, when large events, extraordinary shows and price-slashing sales will take place in the emirate.

Public Holidays and Non-Working Days in the UAE

As with the majority of countries, the main holidays in the Emirates are the same as other important historical events or religions. In the first case, these dates are fixed and are marked every year on the same day. But Islamic holidays have floating dates because they are calculated according to the lunar calendar.
The number of days off in the UAE may change from year to year with not all public holidays being appointed a day off. Usually, at the end of each year, the UAE government announces a public holiday calendar for the upcoming period. In December 2020, the calendar for 2021 and 2022 was announced, and each of them included 14 days off.
It is worth noting that in both 2021 and in 2022 the number of non-working days will be the same for employees in both public and private sectors. This regulation has been in force since 2019 with non-working days associated with public holidays being paid. Previously, public sector workers had more days off.
Note: In the UAE, the work week does not start on Monday, as in most countries around the world. Instead, the working week starts on a Sunday and lasts until Thursday. Accordingly, weekends are Friday and Saturday (again for religious reasons, Friday is considered a holy day for Muslims). If the holiday date falls on a Friday or Saturday, the non-working day may be rescheduled. A high number of expats work 6 days a week, in which case their only day off is Friday.
During the weekend, government agencies and most private organizations are closed in the UAE. For example, UAE banks are closed on Fridays and on public holidays. At the same time, public transport, taxis and shopping centers operate in accordance to their regular schedule.

The Difference Between the Islamic Calendar and the Generally Used Gregorian Calendar

The Islamic calendar by which the dates of religious holidays are calculated, is also called the Hijri calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar adopted in most countries (according to which the dates of Catholic holidays are calculated), which takes into account the number of rotations of the Earth around the Sun, the Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles. A year according to the Hijri calendar also consists of 12 months, but it includes 355 days instead of 365 (a leap year – 354). The new day does not begin at 12am, but from the moment the sun goes down. According to the Islamic calendar, a month lasts an average of 29.53 days. The length of each particular month depends on whether the moon is sighted in the sky. For example, if it was visible in the evening after 29 days, then the next day is considered the beginning of a new month. And if the moon is not observed, then the day is considered the thirtieth in the previous month. Since it is impossible to predict the visibility of the Moon in advance (it depends on atmospheric and weather factors among others), the start date of the new lunar month according to the Hijri calendar also cannot be predicted. Because of this, on the eve of each year when the UAE government announces a list of public holidays, the dates of most religious holidays are indicated as ‘approximate’. Afterwards, they are clarified and can also shift by a few days.

Note: In the UAE, like most other Muslim countries, they operate a special government body, The UAE Moon-Sighting Committee.

Religious Holidays in the Emirates

Since Islam in the UAE is recognized as the state religion at the level of the constitution, the majority of the country's official holidays are Muslim. The most significant are Al Isra'a Wal Mi'raj (the ascension of the prophet Muhammad to heaven), the holy month of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), Arafah Day, Eid al-Adha (ending of Hajj), Islamic New Year and the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Al Isra'a Wal Mi'raj

Al Isra'a Wal Mi'raj (also called Laylat al Miraj) is one of the most important holidays for Muslims. This day is celebrated annually on the 27th day of the Islamic month of Rajab. The holiday is dedicated to the night journey of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem, his ascension to heaven and meeting with the Almighty. This event dates back to the year of 621 (according to other sources, 619). In 2020, Al Isra'a Wal Mi'raj fell on 22 March, but in 2021 the date fell on 11 March. It is expected to be celebrated on 21 March in 2022.

Al Isra'a Wal Mi'raj used to be a holiday in the UAE, but for the past few years this day has been declared a working day. Large celebrations and entertainment events are not encouraged or advised on this holiday as believers spend all night in prayer, visit mosques, and some Muslims fast. On this day, some restaurants and shops are closed, and alcohol is not sold in bars until the end of the next day (specific rules may differ in different emirates).

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr

Ramadan is the ninth month of the year in the Islamic lunar calendar and one of the 5 pillars of Islam. This is the period of compulsory fasting, intense prayer and charity donations, lasting 29 or 30 days. Ramadan is celebrated to pay tribute to the occasion when ayats of Quran were revealed by Allah (SWT) to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for the first time.

During Ramadan, Muslims are prohibited from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. Children under 12, pregnant or breastfeeding women, travelers, diabetics and people who are unwell are exempt from fasting.

Some of the prohibitions affect non-Muslim residents and visitors of the UAE. For example, many cafés and restaurants are closed during the day, and it is forbidden to consume food and beverages in public places (including water, chewing gum and smoking. Alcohol is prohibited even in bars during Ramadan (although there are exceptions in Dubai). Also, during the fast, it is not customary to listen to loud music, with the exception of religious songs.

Important! Article 313 of the UAE's Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 provides punishment for violating the rules of Ramadan. Moreover, it applies not only to Muslims, but also to those who do not practice Islam, including foreign tourists. Those who eat or drink in public during the fasting times may face imprisonment for up to a month or a fine of up to AED 1,000 (USD 272). Non-Muslims can only dine inside a cafe or hotel. But it is worth noting that during Ramadan many catering establishments are closed during the day.

In 2021, to provide support for the lockdown-hit tourism industry, Dubai has created a less restrictive environment for non-fasting guests during Ramadan. This means restaurants that operate during fasting hours, can remove the screens and partitions around tables that were originally installed by law. Bars were also allowed to open, but the ban on loud music is to remain.

Each day of Ramadan, immediately after sunset and the call to evening prayer, the breaking of the fast begins - Iftar (literal translation means "breaking fast"). This is a time to meet with family and friends, and non-Muslims can also take part in the ceremony. Many restaurants and hotels in the UAE offer a variety of Iftar menus from traditional oriental dishes to european and national cuisine.

Traditionally, during Iftar, large tables and tents with treats for the poor are set up next to mosques. But in 2021, these were banned in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

During Ramadan, the working day is usually shortened whilst still maintaining full wages. This applies to non-Muslim employees as well. In 2021, government agencies worked during Ramadan from 9am to 2pm. And in the private sector, the working day during period of fasting is reduced by 2 hours.

Ramadan ends with one of the largest public holidays in the UAE – Eid al-Fitr, which is celebrated the next day after the appearance of the crescent moon in the sky, and is the beginning of the tenth month in the Islamic calendar – Shawwal. Usually, the authorities announce several days off in honour of this event with transport and shopping centers extending their working hours. On this holiday, Muslims attend mosques for Eid prayer. Sometimes prayers are held in the streets, sports arenas or other places that can accommodate large numbers of workshippers.

Local communities often arrange shared meals and children's parties, while Muslims give each other gifts and give to charity for those in need. On Eid al-Fitr holidays, fireworks, shows, dance performances, concerts and other festive events take place in Dubai and other emirates around the country.

In addition, on the eve of the holiday, sales are held in shopping centers. Water parks and other entertainment venues often offer discounts to mark the occasion as well.

Arafat Day

The day of Arafat is celebrated on the ninth day of Dhul Hijjah which is the last month of the year according to the lunar Islamic calendar. This day marks the last day of the Hajj – a pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia), when Muslims go to the sacred Mount Arafat. The event itself takes place outside the UAE, and many residents of the Emirates go to KSA in order to follow one of the main pillars of Islam, which in many cases is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Those Muslims who are not able to travel to Mecca, can visit a mosque and fast during this day. It is worth noting that Arafat Day is not a day for grand celebrations.

Eid al-Adha

Immediately after the Day of Araf comes Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It starts on the tenth day of Zul Hijja and lasts 4 days. The holiday is dedicated to the event when Prophet Ibrahim was ready to sacrifice his son as a sign of devotion to Allah. Thus, during Eid al-Adha, it is customary in the UAE to slaughter a goat, camel, sheep or a cow for sacrifice. For sanitary reasons it is prohibited to do this in public places, so the animals are taken to the slaughterhouse. The meat is divided into three parts: one is left for their own family, the second is given to friends and relatives, and the third is donated to those in need. Animal skins are either given to those in need or taken to the mosque, but selling them, like meat, is strictly prohibited.

These days, exciting festive events are held in the Emirates, including activities for children, and fireworks are organized at night.

Islamic New Year

Islamic New Year starts on the first day of Muharram. This month is considered sacred: it is a time of prayer and remembrance of important Islamic events of the past. Large celebrations and entertainment events on the Islamic New Year, unlike on January 1, are not held. Moreover, the sale of alcohol is prohibited on this day. The holiday is supposed to be spent with family at home.

Prophet Muhammad's Birthday

This day is celebrated on the twelfth day of the third month in the Islamic calendar, Rabi Al Awwal, and is called Al Mawlid Al Nabawi. On this day, it is customary to read verses dedicated to the prophet, as well as the Quran. Some communities in Dubai host outdoor parties to celebrate his life.

Historical and Secular Holidays in the UAE

The UAE's non-religious public holidays include the New Year, which is celebrated around the world on January 1, as well as the dates of important events in the history of the state. These are UAE National Day, Memorial Day and Flag Day. Since they are tied to the Gregorian calendar, they are celebrated on the same day every year.

New Year in the UAE

A breathtaking New Year's Eve show is well known all over the world, and is held on the night of 31 December to 1 January in Downtown Dubai. Fireworks are launched from the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, and various images are projected onto its walls using lasers. Fireworks are also organized on the Palm Jumeirah and in the area of ​​the famous Burj Al Arab hotel.

As for other emirates, in Abu Dhabi, fireworks are launched on Yas Island and on the main embankment of the city of Corniche, and in Sharjah – on the Al Majaz embankment.

UAE Flag Day

Flag Day has been celebrated in the Emirates on 3 November since 2013. The date is timed to coincide with the inauguration of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan as President of the UAE (this event took place in 2004).
UAE Flag Day is a working day. Usually, there are flag-raising ceremonies with the participation of political leaders. In addition, UAE flags are displayed on almost all buildings and are also fixed on cars. In 2019, on Kite Beach in Dubai, state flags were installed in such a way that, when viewed from a height, they formed portraits of the Vice President of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Commemoration Day

Introduced in 2015, Commemoration Day is celebrated on 1 December and is dedicated to the memory of all UAE citizens who gave their lives for their country. On this day in the UAE, state flags are lowered and a moment of silence is held.

National Day

On 2 December, the National Day is celebrated. On this date in 1971, the rulers of the 7 emirates signed an agreement of unification into a common nation, the UAE.

There are huge entertainment events held throughout the country, like fireworks, parades, festivals, air and car shows, as well as concerts. Various promotions and prize drawings are organized in shopping malls and boutiques. Buildings, beaches and parks are decorated, and the colours of the national flag are used in both interior and exterior decor: white, green, black and red.

How Popular Western Holidays are Celebrated in the UAE

Since the UAE is an Islamic country, Christmas, Easter and other Christian holidays are not official here. Accordingly, there are no days off for these holidays. The same goes for secular holidays such as International Women's Day and Valentine's Day. However, the Emirates are renowned for their hospitality and respect for other religions and cultures, so as there are many foreigners, expats and tourists visiting and residing in the country, popular Western holidays in the UAE are celebrated to almost the same effect as the rest of the world.

Christmas in Dubai

Christmas, which is celebrated on December 25, is celebrated in the UAE on a large scale. This is especially true for large cities and tourist centers such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Christmas decorations in public places, Christmas trees, bright illuminations and gifts are invariable attributes.

Shopping malls and boutiques, hotels and parks begin to decorate for the Christmas season soon after the National Day celebrations have ended. In public places, themed melodies are played, holiday trees are set up, as well as Christmas markets and large-scale sales are held across the major cities. The seasonal decorations are dominated by traditional red and green colours for the holiday.

Orthodox Christmas in the UAE is celebrated more modestly – mostly at home, in a family setting or in a church. A festive service is held in Orthodox churches in the UAE on the night of January 7.

Easter in the UAE

Mass is also held at Easter in Christian churches in the UAE. This applies to both Catholic and Orthodox holidays, which usually fall on different dates.

On Catholic Easter, restaurants offer themed holiday dinners and shops sell Easter grocery kits. On the eve of the holiday, you can find brightly coloured eggs and chocolate easter bunnies, almost everywhere. One of the popular entertainment activities during this period is an "Easter egg hunt". This is primarily a children’s or family friendly game where participants search for hidden Easter eggs. These types of activities are held in luxury hotels and resorts across the UAE. For example, in 2018, the 5-star Atlantis Hotel, located in Dubai on the Palm Jumeirah Island, conducted a quest to find more than 50,000 eggs. There were some even hidden in the Ambassador Lagoon aquarium, and in order to find them, the game participants had to brace themselves for scuba diving.

St. Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is one of the most "commercial" holidays in the world, and the Emirates is no exception. Themed gifts are on sale in stores ahead of 14 February. Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular hold the biggest events on this day. Cities are decorated with flowers and balloons, while restaurants and hotels offer romantic packages for their guests to treat the one they love. For example, couples can order a candlelit dinner on the beach.

International Women's Day in the UAE

In recent years, the UAE began to recognise International Women's Day, including at state level. Thus, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, the ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum annually posts congratulations and gratitude to women on his Twitter account.

On the eve of the holiday, thematic events are held in the Emirates like exhibitions of women's art, seminars and forums to celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of women in the country. On March 8, restaurants, spas, resorts and amusement parks often offer discounts and special offers for women.

Halloween in the United Arab Emirates

Halloween is another popular Western holiday that has taken off in the UAE. On this day, numerous entertainment events are held in hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, parks and children's areas. Children can take part in prize draws and master classes, and adults have the opportunity to attend themed parties at night.

Holidays and Days Off in the UAE in 2021

The major holidays that are part of the official days off in 2021 have already passed for this year. Starting from January 1, 2021 residents and guests of the Emirates celebrated the New Year, this day was non-working.

On March 11, Muslims celebrated Al Isra'a Wal Mi'raj (working day), and from 13 April to 12 May, the holy month of Ramadan began and ended. Eid al-Fitr in 2021 fell on 13 May. Moreover, the government provided employees of the public and private sectors with 5 days off, from 11 May to 15 May (taking into account the fact that 14-15 May are Friday and Saturday). The day of Arafat was also declared a non-working day, and was held on 19 July.

Muslims celebrated Eid al-Adha on July 20, and in honour of this holiday, the state announced 3 days off from 20-22 July. Islamic New Year in the UAE was celebrated on 12 August.

There are still 4 public holidays to look forward to this year. The nearest of them is the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, which is expected on 21 October.

This is followed by two holidays with a fixed date. On 1 December, the country will celebrate Memorial Day and on 2 December, the UAE National Day will take place, in honour of which two days off have been announced (2-3 December). This year, National Day will be special as it will be the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the UAE.

Holidays and Days Off in the UAE in 2022

The Emirates are expected to have 14 public days off in 2022. Among the holidays with fixed dates are New Year (1 January), Commemoration Day (1 December) and UAE National Day (2 December as well as 3 December).

In terms of Islamic holidays, Eid al-Fitr is expected to take place on 1 May 2022, Arafah Day on 8 July, Eid Al Adha on 9 July, Islamic New Year on 30 July, and Prophet Muhammad's birthday on 8 October. The official dates of the holidays will be announced closer to each event.

Summary

  1. Public holidays in the UAE are divided into secular and religious. Dates of Islamic holidays are "floating" because they are calculated according to the annual lunar calendar.
  2. The holiday calendar may vary from year to year. The preliminary list before the beginning of the year is announced by the UAE government. Then, as the dates of religious holidays become more accurate, the list is updated.
  3. On weekends, government agencies and banks in the UAE are closed.
  4. Restrictions on fasting during Ramadan in the UAE also apply to non-Muslims: it is forbidden to eat, drink water and other beverages, as well as to smoke in public places, however, the rules have been relaxed this year.
  5. One of the most anticipated holidays of 2021 is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the UAE, which will be celebrated on 2 December.
  6. Popular in Europe and in the US, secular holidays such as Christmas or Valentine's Day are widely celebrated in the UAE, although they do not belong to the category of the official holidays.

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