As the end of 2013 nears, Qatar’s rumor mill has been in full force, particularly over the fate of Christmas celebrations and the continued existence of the Qatar Distribution Company (QDC), the only outlet in the country where residents with permits can buy liquor for home consumption.
But it doesn’t look like either of these things are in any danger, according to the people who have spoken with Doha News.
Christmas in hotels
Earlier this month, a rumor began to circulate that all hotels here were canceling their Christmas celebrations, after the Ritz-Carlton Doha decided not to hold its scheduled festive events, including a Christmas tree lighting ceremony and Christmas market.
When contacted by Doha News, the hotel’s public relations representative said that the hotel had made the decision after receiving a directive from the Qatar Tourism Authority about National Day celebrations. As a result, it said it was focusing entirely on the tomorrow’s holiday.
A member of staff at the hotel told Doha News today that there are no plans to erect a Christmas tree after National Day at the Ritz. However, some Christmas-related events, such as gingerbread house decorating, have gone ahead in the hotel in the past week.
The Ritz-Carlton group’s other Doha hotel, the Sharq Village and Spa, followed the Ritz-Carlton’s lead, and also canceled its Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
However, many other five-star hotels have kept their plans. The St Regis, for example, unveiled a 6-meter tall tree earlier this month, complete with a life-size gingerbread house, choir and posting box for letters to Santa Claus. The Four Seasons, Kempinski Hotel and Grand Hyatt also followed suit with tree lighting ceremonies.
A few incidents in private schools have also spurred rumors of a crackdown on Christmas at schools.
According to one parent, following a complaint, Compass School in Al Rayyan was asked a few weeks ago by the Supreme Education Council to remove its “giving tree” – a decorated tree underneath which children had been asked to leave gifts for laborers.
When Doha News contacted the school this morning, Head of Campus Patricia Taylor declined to comment about the matter.
On a related note, an employee at Newton Lagoon School told Doha News this morning that the school had decided to change its plans to mark National Day with an “International Day.” Instead of asking students to come to school in their own national dress, kids have been told to come in their normal clothes or Qatari national dress.
“International Day” will likely be celebrated next term, the staffer said, adding that the five local Newton schools typically hold such celebrations at different times of the year from each other. Management made the decision about the Lagoon campus’ event so as to not detract from National Day, she said.
However, other similar events planned in Qatar’s private schools have gone ahead with no problems this week, and some schools have displayed Christmas trees and held holiday concerts without incident.
Many major supermarkets in Doha have put up large displays of Christmas decorations, food and chocolate this season. However, Doha’s coffee lovers discovered yesterday that Starbucks had stopped selling its seasonal favorite, the Gingerbread Latte. One customer was told that this was “due to National Day.”
But the issue actually seems to be about a lack of stock, rather than an effort to remove holiday-related merchandise.
According to an employee at Starbucks in City Center Mall, the chain had run out of its special gingerbread mix in Qatar, but an order had been put in for more. The employee told Doha News that he did not know when the shipment would arrive.
Fate of QDC
Over the past few months, persistent rumors have circulated about QDC, asserting that it was going to be made to close for good after National Day, which would restrict the sale of alcohol in Qatar only to hotels and clubs.
But speaking to Doha News, an employee there said the warehouse would only be closed for National Day, and would reopen immediately after the holiday. She also said that rumors about a permanent closure “are not true.”
Rumors about the fate of QDC have been circulating for years. It seems likely the latest round of questions was sparked by the nationalization of Qatar Airways, which became an entirely government-owned company this summer.
The national carrier owns QDC, and in the past few weeks, there have been sporadic outbursts on Twitter from some Qataris who have decried the business for selling alcohol and pork, both of which Muslims are prohibited from consuming.