Tips for surviving Christmas – buying gifts (for expats in Dubai)
Have you been to a party on Christmas eve, come home with a head dancing with Champagne and then had to stay up to do last-minute wrapping while everyone else is asleep? I broke my own rules last year and found myself wrapping stocking presents after I’d vowed to never be in that position again. Get organised and you can trip off to all the parties in December without a care in the world. Plus you’ll feel assured that friends and family near and far have all felt just a little bit special.
1. Christmas cards
I love receiving post from friends and family abroad. The best way to receive is to give and my Christmas card list has a core of friends I’d like to keep in touch with. The round Robin letter is abhorred by some but I rather like reading them – unless of the ‘thinly veiled boast ‘our children are so high achieving’ type. There are online options if you want to save a few trees. Get round the expensive postage by picking up a large amount of stamp books next time you are home. The ones in the UK say ‘1st class’ or ‘2nd class’ so leftovers will last indefinitely. Get your cards written early (I’m doing mine this weekend) and have them ready addressed and stamped then look out for friends traveling home. A quick call out on Facebook works wonders. If they have a stamp on them most people don’t mind shoving them in a letterbox at the airport.
Bonus tip: Postcode finder on Royal Mail
2. Stocking fillers
When DO your children stop wanting a stocking? Start really early with these as they are always the most time-consuming. Jolly’s in Bath is where I usually buy ones for the teens … in August. Overkill? Not at all. Inside Out in Tavistock yielded many treasures this year. Wrap them immediately and keep a list to know what you have bought.
Bonus tip: Inside Out delivers within the UK and EU
3. Hotel Chocolat
I’ve been using Hotel Chocolat for donkey’s years and every person that has received a box of their chocolates has been delighted. They do a ‘sleekster’ which fits through the letter box (not for people with dogs!) and have a handy reminder service so you can add people’s birthdays. You can add a personalised message and ordering is easy. The Champagne truffles are to die for. Elder teen, in her first term at University, was thrilled with one of their Advent calendars.
4. The Secret Adventures of Rolo
Anyone can order a book from Amazon but how about a signed copy direct from the author? My dear friend Debi Evans writes and self-publishes hugely popular fantasy adventure stories about Rolo the dog with historical themes interwoven. They are aimed predominantly at 7-11 year olds but adults with a sense of humour, particularly dog lovers, enjoy them too. The charming illustrations are by Chantal Bourgonje. Signed and dedicated books can be ordered via Debi’s website and posted within UK for £8.50 each (including postage).
5. Book a course
When KP booked me on a fish course I was sceptical; but I loved it. Here are a few on my wish list:
Manna from Devon – I’d love to do another of their courses down in beautiful Dartmouth in Devon. With 39 different course there’s a lot to choose from including cooking in a wood-fired oven and classes for teens. And how about ‘world of curry’?
Virtuous Bread – “Give someone a voucher for a bread class and they will bake bread for you forever after that” so says Jane Mason who runs also empowers people in prison by teaching them bread baking skills . Their vouchers are available to buy and redeem on line and they have trainers are all over the UK.
River Cottage – Personally, I’d love to do sour dough or ‘pig in a day’ at this cookery school based in rural Dorset.
6. Calendars and photo books
Older people often don’t really want any more possessions but adore looking at pictures of their family. If I don’t make one of these for certain people each year I get complaints. I’ve used Boots and Kodak online with success. Someone is now doing it in the UAE too but I haven’t tried them out.
7. Edible presents
If you are thinking of making edible gifts, now’s the time to start – nearer the day you may not have time and some things improve with age. Preserved lemons need at least one month to mature. Lemon or other fruit curds are universally loved and so is gingerbread. Homemade vanilla essence or wine vinegar are simple to make. Wash and save nice jars with lids for pickles and preserves. Scour Daiso for interesting vessels.
Bonus tip: If no time to make your own Dima Sharif sells Arabic spices and olive oil which benefits a good cause in Palestine as well as her delicious homemade pickles – find her at The Farmers’ Market.
With town centres and shopping malls selling identikit items wherever you are in the world, something handmade and individual is so thoughtful and unique as a present”
Majlis market – the lovely Majlis Gallery is situated in a beautiful traditional house in the Al Fahidi heritage district and has masses of small gifts as well as beautiful art. Read about a previous visit to the Christmas market here.
Arte is packed full of home-made items and quirky gifts by artists and crafters. I’ve bought sock monkeys, knitted jewellery and lovely fudge from Toffee Princess among other things. More details here.
Art House – you may drive past on the Al Wasl road and think that it’s just for picture framing. Stop and go inside – I’ve bought some of the nicest presents there in the past from money boxes in the shape of wind towers to beautiful jewellery and cards. The best place to get things framed too.
Bonus tip: The popular Jess Night Market
9. For dog lovers
Higher end of the budget but imagine their faces when you present a replica of their dog that’s this cute! They do gift vouchers too.
10. Spa pampering
My favourite SensAsia has some great ideas on their website offering ‘steal’ and ‘splurge’ ideas depending on budget. How about a ‘Cinnamon spice and all things nice’ body polish so you smell like Christmas? Still the best place for a hot stone massage in Dubai IMO.
Top for luxurious pampering is the Amara Spa at the Park Hyatt – each treatment room has its own tiny garden and shower amid the foliage. Gift certificates and packages available.
The treat of an indulgent Hammam treatment is also immensely appealing – a list of some hammams in Dubai I’d like to try here.
Bonus tip: SensAsia have special offers on Festive spa deals and will also deliver vouchers above 500 aed.
11. VAT-free Christmas fashion
If things are sent to Dubai from the UK you don’t have to pay the 20% Value Added Tax. This is particularly brilliant when you order from Boden as there is a flat delivery fee of £12. What you save on the VAT more than covers the postage. If you subscribe by email they are always having discount offers too. No brainer for that Christmas outfit and gifts for him.
12. Christmas spice
My friend Arva has done it again. Not only did she come up with the idea of down-to-earth foodie tours of old Dubai (a Frying Pan adventure would make a great gift or office night out) but her guide to all the spices in the Spice Souk is encyclopedic. I am ordering ‘Unraveling the Souk” for so many people this Christmas.
Finally, don’t forget to have some little gifts bought and wrapped for last-minute, unexpected guests and occasions. January sales are very good for picking up nice items for gifting – but hey, I’m now planning ahead for next year and we’ve still got this Christmas to go.
Do you have any favourite ideas to add to this list? Go-to websites? Handy tips?