[Dubai] In spite of strict regulations banning gatherings during COVID-19, Americans around the Gulf are finding ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. Far from family, it is usually a time that expats gather together in homes and recreate the holiday season with their “expat family,” a community of friends who, living far from home, build special bonds. But this year, much has changed.
I’m looking forward to treating a small group of Egyptian, Indian, Greek and Australian friends to a true feast, with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and a YouTube highlight reel of some NFL games
In Qatar, Kathleen Riley, from Pennsylvania, will be spending time with her friends. The music teacher is spending her third year living in Doha, and says celebrations will be a low-key affair this year. “I was really looking forward to a long weekend somewhere but due to COVID-19 and ministry regulations of group gathering sizes, I’m celebrating here in Qatar. The usual Qatar scenario is lavishly glam, so I’m doing just that, but in my apartment,” she said.
Riley will be gathering friends in her home for what she calls a “global Thanksgiving feast,” celebrating with an 8-kilogram turkey. “I’m looking forward to treating a small group of Egyptian, Indian, Greek and Australian friends to a true feast, with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and a YouTube highlight reel of some NFL games,” she said.
Being far from home, it is Riley’s expat friends who she says have helped her navigate the challenges of COVID-19. “Compared to the usual Thanksgiving, I believe I gave most of that up when I became an expat. This time, Thanksgiving will be a little more special. I’ll be home with my Doha family,” she said.
With many wishing to stay at home during this time, we have tried to make the holiday an even more memorable one by delivering the perfect Thanksgiving feast to guest’s homes this year without the trouble and hassle of preparing a roast turkey with all the trimmings in the kitchen
Bahrain’s Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay has had to slightly alter its festivities this year. Usually celebrated with an extravagant brunch and dinner party by the pool, since COVID-19 the hotel has added a home delivery menu, with all the festive favorites including a turkey feast. Restaurants currently are allowed to seat a maximum of 30 people indoors with up to six people per table, as social distancing measures remain in place for both indoor and outdoor venues.
“With travel restrictions still in place in most countries and flights less frequent than before, many Thanksgiving celebrators are opting to stay at home and celebrate in their country of residence,” said Fabian Apel, manager at the hotel’s Bay View restaurant. “Understanding the importance of this holiday, however, to the many expats here is very important. With many wishing to stay at home during this time, we have tried to make the holiday an even more memorable one by delivering the perfect Thanksgiving feast to guest’s homes this year without the trouble and hassle of preparing a roast turkey with all the trimmings in the kitchen.”
In the United Arab Emirates, the situation is also far more subdued than normal. What would usually be lavish buffet banquets will now be modest a la carte menus and home delivery, in line with government guidelines. From the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai to Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, hotels have had to pivot to meet the challenges of social distancing.
Executive head chef at Emirates Palace, Wolfgang Eberle, said the hotel is adapting. “Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated with large family feasts and lots of friends; however, with the limitation for gatherings at home we have received an uptick in bookings,” he said. At Le Vendome Restaurant the hotel is serving a specific three-course turkey experience including favorites such as pumpkin risotto with lobster and Brussels sprouts, and caramelized pecan pie with tonic bean ice cream.
With around 75,000 Americans in the UAE as of April, Thanksgiving is a holiday on which businesses are keen to capitalize. “Though many things are different this year, we still strive to create a memorable experience for our guests bringing in elements of Thanksgiving,” said Eberle.
We would usually be at home with my husband’s American family but this year, COVID has ruined our plans. We’ll make the most of it and have fun, but it’s not the same
Chloe Kangalee and her American husband Terrance were scheduled to be with family in the US for Thanksgiving, but have been grounded in the UAE due to COVID-19 complications. “We would usually be at home with my husband’s American family but this year, COVID has ruined our plans,” she said. “We’ll make the most of it and have fun, but it’s not the same. We were looking forward to taking our little one for her first Thanksgiving to things like the pumpkin patch and the petting zoos to really throw her into the experience.”
The British expat says that for her husband it is a very special time and, not least, a time for family. “In the past, we have done ‘friendsgiving’ celebrations, but we really are looking forward to being back in the US for it next year,” she said.