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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas in Qatar

Santa Clause in the desert
Christmas Past

Once upon a time in Qatar Christmas was, if not exactly banned, at least discouraged. Pictures of Christmas in foreign newspapers were blacked out, Christmas songs were discouraged and, according to one old timer on Qatar Living, in 1983 the word Merry Christmas was banned on QBS after the murder of thousands of Muslims in Lebanon by Christians caused an anti-Christian backlash. As a result the term Merry Crimble was used instead!

Christmas Present

Fortunately for Christmas lovers, Qatar now allows Christmas to be celebrated quietly. Some malls go so far as to put up Christmas trees and decorations, and last year one Muslim scholar stated that it was okay for Muslims to celebrate Christmas in a non-religious sense. (Although we should also point out there are lots of Muslims who disagree with him.) Some Qataris go as far as to decorate their houses and give presents.

It is also generally acceptable to give Muslims cards, but look for a card saying Seasons Greetings rather than Merry Christmas. Obviously, any card with a religious symbol on it would be completely unacceptable.

My favourite story regarding Christmas in Qatar is of a couple of Westerners doing business with some Qataris on Christmas Day. At the end of the negotiations, the Western businessmen were lead into a separate room where some mince pies with a glass of brandy awaited them. While I have no idea if this story is true or not, to me it is a wonderful example of the tolerance that we enjoy in Qatar.

Christmas Shopping

Obviously, it may not be as easy to buy the Christmas tree and decorations as it is back home, but it is possible. The AWA’s bazaar, which usually sells Christmas decorations and cards, has sadly already slipped past us this year, but Megamart (which you will find located in The Center) always has a good selection of decorations and the odd plastic tree.

Unfortunately it is also extremely expensive - the mince pies can be three or four times as much as they cost in the UK. (We know because sometimes they leave the original Waitrose price tag on! If you want to try saving money you could make your own - see the recipe below!) Rather more cheap and cheerful is the upstairs floor of the Family Food Center - you'll find branches of this shop on D ring road close to the airport and in Al Nasser street (the opposite end from C ring road.)

For stocking fillers it is worth heading off to the cheaper shops, where you will any number of cheap and cheerful goods for a few riyals. You could start dig around the shops in Souq Waqif will be sure to get you a good range of toys (try the spinning top - it kept our kids entertained for hours!)

We also like the cheap shops located along Ahmed Bin Ali Street: Al Shaheen and Rawnaq. The second, Rawnaq, is an amazing place - sticking its head just above the ground with two glass conservatories, it seems small, but becomes huge when you disappear underneath, and offers no end of cheap junk for you to rummage through. There are several branches, but we use the one on Ahmed Bin Ali Street - see map below:

A third place where it is easy to get stocking fillers and cheap but interesting gifts is the Japanese Daiso in Hyatt Plaza Shopping Mall. This is located on the second floor (its more of a ledge actually) above a huge Homes R Us.

Ordering Presents from Abroad

All is not lost when the present your child desires is not available in Qatar. While the Qatar post office has been slammed in the past over the later delivery of presents (to be fair, this may have had something to do with the awful postal service in the UK at Christmas time last year) there is are alternative postal services. The one we use is Aramex's Shop and Ship, which allows you to buy online in the US or the UK and then have it shipped to Qatar at a fraction the price of most courier companies.


One pleasant tradition that has developed in Qatar amongst the expatriates is to gather in the desert around a bonfire and have a sing song. At some of these events Father Christmas even turns up, although there are rumours this may not happen this year after he experienced delays trying to get an exit permit. These are generally private events and are not announced publicly.

On the big day those who can arrange a day of work, although this is not always possible. Then expats split into two camps, those who head off to hotels to enjoy Xmas dinner and those who hold/join Christmas parties. If you would prefer the first, make sure you book the dinner as early as possible, as places sell out well in advance. Alternatively, you could follow the example in the movie below, dress up as Santa Claus and go Kite Boarding!

Father Christmas Kite Surfing in Qatar

Qatar Visitor’s Credit Crunch Busting, Megamart Price Crushing Inflation Beating Mince Pie Recipe

Takes 25 minutes to make, about 25 minutes to bake, plus chilling and cooling

3501 quantity short crust pastry.:

Home made:
Sift 170 g plain flour with a pinch of salt into a clean bowl. Rub in 100 g cold butter in cubes until crumble like. Stir in 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and add 1 large egg yolk, mix with knife. Add 1 - 2 tablespoons water to mix a little at a time. Form dough into ball and chill 1/2 hour before use.

Mincemeat as below:

Makes about 1.1kg mincemeat and takes 40 minutes to make, plus cooling

1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
100g sultanas
75g currants
75g dried cranberries
175g raisins
100g mixed chopped peel
25g pecans, finely chopped
100ml dark rum
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus the juice of 2
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
175g dark muscovado sugar
100g shredded vegetable suet

1. Combine all the ingredients except the muscovado sugar and suet in a large saucepan. Place over a low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the fruit has plumped up and most of the liquid has evaporated but it isn’t dry. Set aside to cool, then stir in the muscovado sugar and suet.
2. Meanwhile, sterilise several jars. Preheat the oven to 120°C/fan100°C/gas 1/2. Wash both the jars and lids well in hot, soapy water, rinse and place upside down on a baking tray. Place in the hot oven for 10 minutes or until dry. Remove from the oven and use a clean cloth to handle the jars.
3. Divide the mincemeat between the hot jars, seal, label and set aside to cool. Store in a cool place for up to 6 months.

Alternatively - just buy a jar of mince meat.

1. Make the pastry.
2. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan170°C/gas 5. Cut the pastry into 2 unequal pieces, about two-thirds to one-third. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the large piece of pastry to about 3mm thick. Using a 10cm round, plain cutter (or ramekin), stamp or cut out 12 circles, re-rolling the trimmings, if necessary. Carefully mould into a deep 12-hole muffin tin – don’t worry if the pastry bunches together slightly, simply smooth out with your fingers. Divide the mincemeat between the pastry cases, filling each one three-quarters full.
3. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry as before and use a 7-8cm round, plain cutter to stamp out 12 lids. Brush the edges of the pastry bases with water, lay a pastry lid on top and press the edges together to seal. Brush each pie with egg. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and piping hot. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack.
4. Serve the mince pies warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar.


Buy ready made short crust pastry.
Roll out, cut into circles and put into bun tin.
Fill with jar of mincemeat (add drop of brandy if desired).
You could cover with smaller circles. However, my granny used to make a very special topping instead of the pastry lid - here it is:

Cream 65 g soft butter with 65 g caster sugar until fluffy. Fold in 1 egg and a little alcohol. Fold in1 tbs. plain flour and 65 g ground almonds. Spoon onto pies and bake about 25 mins.

Also see:

Qatar Christmas Gift Ideas
Christmas Gifts from Japan