Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in Muscat

What does Christmas look like in Muscat? In many ways quite familiar, in most ways more subdued. For the last 2 weeks I've noticed the English language radio stations play the occasional holiday song (the secular ones). A few Western expats will hang strings of lights on their balconies or in their yards. Other neighborhoods may be different, I can only speak to what I've seen between the office and home. Judging by photos online many have well decorated Christmas trees inside their homes. Certainly the hotels have huge tree displays and many offer special meals and celebrations for those who don't want the hassle at home. Stores have had holiday music in the background, again fairly secular, and there have been plenty of Christmas sales for a couple of weeks, sometimes storewide discounts.  And it's not just expats taking advantage of the pricing!  One can find all kinds of holiday decorations, from fake trees and fake greenery to ball ornaments, bells, holiday dishware and household goods. And LOTS of chocolates!

At the opera house it was business as usual with rehearsals on both the 24th and 25th, since these are ordinary working days in the Islamic calendar. Our program, "Cossacks of Russia and Tajikistan Folklore" opened on the 26th. To my knowledge, in Oman, Christian expats are permitted to take the 25th off in acknowledgment of the occasion, but in theatre in general, holidays have always meant a lot of work as people want to be entertained. We did arrange, though, to have rehearsals end by afternoon so that expat staff could enjoy a little of the holiday. Several Omani, Pakistani and Indian colleagues and acquaintances went out of their way to wish a Merry Christmas, some even sent a card. Me? I hosted a small dinner at home for some "orphans", friends made in the last year, and we had a delightful evening with great conversation and too much food. Just the kind of celebration I like!

Here are some samples of typical store displays which should look familiar:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oman National Day 2013

November 18 is Oman's National Day.  It is on the day of the Sultan's birthday and is generally a day when people celebrate His Majesty and his leadership, and just being Omani.  The official federal holidays (ie days off) were Nov. 27 and 28, dates that were announced only about 2 weeks prior. The short notice is standard procedure here for any holiday.
The 18th was marked with a military parade and review by the Sultan at an invitation only event. For about 2 weeks before and after there were green, white and red decorations (colors of the flag) all over the city.  And I mean all over.  Lights were strung between the lampposts on along the highways, any building with architectural lighting changed the bulbs to the tri-color pattern, posters with the sultan's picture went up in windows and on walls.  On the big day newspapers were full of ads wall to wall from companies and organizations celebrating His Majesty's reign (43 years so far) and each one had a picture of him. Most spectacular of all, I thought, were the decorations on private cars.  I don't know if they actually painted their cars or if these were expertly attached decals, nonetheless green, white and red were all over.  This is a sample of what I could see from my office - I did have to work after all!

People honked their car horns all day, they were generally exuberant.  At night I thought I heard fireworks, but could not see any.  Colleagues said they thought it was celebratory gunfire.

At the Opera House we celebrated with a staff party and colored light bulbs in the outdoor lighting.  Five of the women on staff took it upon themselves to organize an amazing display of Omani arts, culture, crafts and food in our lobby.  They decorated the grand staircase with strings of flags and ribbons.  There were displays of traditional pottery and utensils, musical instruments, clothes and weapons.  There were Omani musicians playing drums and ouds (like a lute) and dancing.  And then there was the feast.  The women had spent days cooking up an enormous buffet for all to share. Our staff photographer Khalid Al Mujaini supplied the following photos:

A traditional outfit for women.
This is business formal for men.
Yes, those are bagpipes on the right, very popular here.
The oud (like a lute) and qanun (like a zither) ensemble.

Traditional housewares
More festive attire.  The face mask is not seen often in
Muscat, slightly more common in rural areas.
A beautiful cake decorated with an image of the Opera House.
I performed the
ceremonial first cut.

It's the best picture I have of the extent of the buffet, with hummus, various salads, meze, rice and grilled meats (lamb, beef, chicken) for days.  And, of course the ever popular mini-pizzas.

My colleague brought his young son to the party (posted here with his permission).  I think those tiny children in adult clothing are absolutely adorable.  And they walk a little taller knowing they are wearing official attire.