Last week the UAE celebrated its forty-first birthday.  My children point out with great glee that I am older than the country. Why they think that’s so funny, I’m not sure, but they find it to be a laugh riot.

Last year was the big four-oh for the country, and like most of us when we hit those decade milestones, they pulled out all the stops: several nights worth of fireworks, a huge pageant in a sports arena, swooping fighter jets putting on an aerial show over the Gulf.  This year’s celebration didn’t go quite so over the top, although we did get the fighter jets writing hearts in the sky with plumes of smoke in the colors of the UAE flag.

We learned last year that in order to be fully in the spirit of National Day, one needs either a decorated car or cans of silly string – or both. We’d stocked up on silly string (twelve cans between two boys, which, it turned out, wasn’t quite enough), but drew the line at decorating our (rented) car.  And although generally speaking I dislike crowds, noise, chaos, and displays of patriotism, off we went with some friends to stroll the Corniche to spray silly string at all and sundry celebrate the UAE’s forty-first birthday.

National Day marks the official unification of the regions that now constitute the Emirates: Fujairah, Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Umm al- Quain (Ras al-Kaimah joined the following year). Sheikh Zayed, the man who gets the most credit for engineering this unification, is regarded as a national hero, and his face gets plastered everywhere as a result, even on the back of a passing Nissan:

Zayed is the one in the middle, with the wiper coming out of his chin

The entire city gets lit up for the holiday, which is always celebrated on Dec 2.  The wattage that goes into these displays would put the Christmas lights in Bay Ridge and Sheepshead Bay to shame:

And of course, cars.  There is something eminently appropriate about a country whose wealth comes from oil and gas celebrating its founding by decorating what is, literally, the vehicle of their wealth.  Also? Easier to put a sticker on a car than on an oil well, which is also very difficult to drive down the Corniche (not to mention really hard to park).

Decorations ranged from elegantly simple…

…to somewhat more ornate…

…to seriously tricked out:

But ultimately, in the eyes of my kids at least, Dec 2 is the national silly string holiday.  Cars moving slowly along the Corniche Road spray silly string and shaving cream at passersby, who shoot at them in return:

In fact, I think it’s possible that silly string might have uses in diplomatic situations as a negotiating tool and/or ice-breaking device. As we walked along the beach, the boys were “string attacking” each other, when suddenly they were ambushed by a man who’d been sitting quietly on the sand with his family:

Within a few minutes of the ambush, total strangers were dancing around with one another, dodging the brightly colored string lofting through the air:

It was a veritable world harmony moment, brought to you courtesy of silly string and shaving cream: world peace, wafted in on a billow of menthol-scented freshness.