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Celebrating Islam, the Nation & More: Public Holidays in the UAE
- Public holidays in the UAE occur on nine occasions; the exact number of days off work can, however, vary.
- Religious holidays are determined by the Islamic calendar and as such fall on different dates each Gregorian year.
- In case a public holiday falls onto a weekend, the day off may occasionally be moved to the previous or following day.
Islamic Holidays — A Matter of the Moon
Both, the Gregorian as well as the Islamic calendar (typically called Hijri calendar), are used in the UAE, with the latter of particular importance when it comes to the timing of Islamic practices and holidays. Based on the sightings of the new moon, the Hijri calendar includes 354 days, split up into twelve months:
- Rabi’ Al-Awwal
- Rabi’ Al-Thani
- Jumadá Al-Awwal
- Jumadá Al-Thani
- Dhu Al-Qa‘dah
- Dhu Al-Ḥijjah
Since the Islamic year is shorter than its Gregorian brother, dates do not directly correspond. The calendar’s beginnings are found in 622 AD of the Gregorian calendar, and as such the current Hijri year started in mid-October 2015 and is referred to as 1437 AH (anno hegirae, i.e. “the year of the Hijra”).
What is more, due to the fact that the beginnings of its months are based on the sighting of the new moon, the Gregorian dates of Islamic holidays are at first only estimated. Their exact timing is confirmed just shortly before the fact. Please also note that there’s often a difference between the number of paid days off when comparing the public and the private sector, so make sure to take these factors into account when planning your holidays while living in the UAE!
Ramadan and the Eid Al-Fitr
While the whole month of Ramadan is considered holy and comes with certain rites and obligations, it is Eid Al-Fitr, the end of fasting, which is enthusiastically celebrated. Starting on the first day of the following month (Shawwal), the festival lasts for three days. During this time, Muslims rejoice in the breaking of their fast together with family and friends and give charity to those in need. You can expect this time to be a festive one, with fireworks and fairs, music and dancing, as well as various events and shows taking place across the Emirates.
Eid Al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice — 10 Dhu Al-Hijjah
Held in honor of Ibrahim’s (near) sacrifice of his son, the three day celebration of Eid Al-Adha typically includes the sacrifice of a goat or sheep and the sharing of its meat with the immediate family, other relatives, as well as the needy. The festival begins on the tenth of the last month (Dhu Al-Hijjah) and coincides with the second half of the Hajj pilgrimage.
Eid Al-Mawlid an Nabawi, the Prophet’s Birthday — 12 Rabi’ Al-Awwal
With Islam playing such a fundamental role in the UAE, it is hardly surprising that the prophet’s birthday on the twelfth of the third month (Rabi’ Al-Awwal) is also a public holiday in the UAE.
A Journey through the Night: Al Isra’a Wal Mi’raj — 27 Rajab
Held on the 27th day of the 7th month of the Hijri calendar (Rajab), the so-called Ascension Day is an Islamic holiday in memory of the night journey of the Prophet Muhammed, during which he traveled to Jerusalem as well as ascended to heaven to converse with previous prophets and God.
Standing Vigil on Arafat Day — 9 Dhu Al-Hijjah
Similarly to the Eid Al-Adha festival, the Arafat Day is also connected to the holy pilgrimage (Hajj) and is in fact set on the day before the former festival, i.e. on the ninth day of the last month (Dhu Al-Hijjah). On this day, which is a public holiday in the UAE, those on pilgrimage journey from Mina to the nearby Mount Arafat and the surrounding plain, where they stand vigil before God (wuquf). Muslims at home often fast on this day.
It’s Not All about Religion: National Holidays
Celebrating the New Year, Twice! — 1 January & 1 Muharram
Al-Hijra marks the beginning of a new year in the Islamic calendar and as such falls on the first day of the month Muharram. A public holiday in the UAE, the Islamic new year is welcomed less with grand celebrations (compared to some Western New Year’s traditions) and more regarded as a time of reflection as well as for looking forward.
In comparison, the new Gregorian year is welcomed with a bang in the UAE. A cause for celebration around the globe, the Emirati contribution to lightning up the sky with fireworks seems to get more and more impressive each New Year. This is particularly the case in Dubai and centered around Burj Khalifa: In 2015/16, around 1.6 tons of fireworks were installed on this skyscraper alone!
In Memory of the Fallen: Martyr’s Day — 30 November
A more recent fixture with its introduction in 2015, Martyr’s Day is a public holiday held in remembrance and honor of Emiratis who’ve fallen for their country, whether in military, civil, or humanitarian services. On this day, commemorative events and ceremonies are held across the Emirates.
The Birth of a Country: National Day — 2 December
Officially established in 1971, with Ras Al Khaimah joining the following year, the UAE’s beginning as an independent country is celebrated each year on 2 December. Depending on the weekday this date falls on, one, sometimes even two, days off work are granted for National Day.
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