Advent is different this year. I'm used to Christmas lights in Regent St., crowds of Christmas shoppers, decorations visible through people's front windows (and sometimes plastered all over the outside of their houses too). In short, my Decembers are usually -- like most of yours -- full of public displays of anticipation for the festive season.
Not this year.
It goes without saying that Christmas is not celebrated in Saudi Arabia. This strictest of Islamic countries doesn't even allow the practice of any religion other than Islam. There are no churches, and people are not allowed to display any kind of religious symbol, so crucifixes have to remain under the clothes.
The shops are carrying on as normal here, but there is the occasional glimpse of festivity in shops who try to acknowledge the needs (and get the business) of the Christian ex-pat community. Some large supermarkets, for example, will have secular winter decorations such as large snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, and will also sell things like tinsel and tree baubles (but not trees). I'm told there is a black market here where you can get just about any Christmas item you could wish for, but I've seen no evidence of it.
Nor have I looked to be honest, because we brought our old decorations out with us so have no need to scour Riyadh's backstreets looking for fairy lights. We put our decorations up last weekend, a little earlier than usually do, but then we're coming back to the UK for Christmas itself, so wanted to make the house look festive a little earlier. It's a good job we're coming back too, as our TV has decided to choose this time to break down.
Elliot & Abigail getting into the Christmas spirit
There are many Embassy families staying in Riyadh for Christmas, and it sounds like they have a great time planned. We also had our Embassy Family Christmas Party yesterday in the Residence gardens, complete with a visit from Santa himself! Full details in next posting.