Desert Christmas – The Festival of the Desert, Tunisia

It was “Christmas” and we felt the need to get away from it all so booked a cheap all-in package to Tunis. At the hotel the beer was virtually undrinkable and the food not much better. Karaoke and people bribing waiters to reserve seats in the restaurant was the order of the day. It got to the day before Christmas Eve and people were now paying waiters for the best seats at the Christmas Day lunch (for which a supplement was payable) and front seats to watch the “traditional” floor show at the meal. The beer was still undrinkable. There was a hire car place opposite the hotel. What to do? Very little choice actually. We got into a hire car and drove some 350 km’s south to the Festival of the Desert, which is where we spent Christmas Day that year (2005). Not a hint of tinsel, no mince pies and no floor show. This was the real McCoy: camel racers in elegant, dazzling white robes astride huge and magnificent beasts the colour of urban snow; hawk fliers looking as proud as their noble birds; dusty eagle handlers; earnest-looking horse racing competitors carrying rifles; happy dancers and a curious man in a red waistcoat balancing pots on his head. They came from all corners of the Sahara for this festival. Each seemed to be wearing the colours of their tribe. And what an extravagant event it was. We were lucky to get a room in a cheap hotel and ate at a street stall for Christmas Day lunch. Many of the participants seemed to have pitched their traditional Bedouin tents just outside the festival ground where cooking fires burned and old men sat around in the sunshine. In the evening some of these impressive nomads in their full desert garb sat talking on their mobile phones and discussing the day’s events in the hotel bar. No-one celebrated Christmas, but everyone celebrated their desert culture. This was a truly spectacular Anti-Christmas.
These photos were taken on Christmas day 2005

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