Kids were dressed up, cars were decorated, flags were being waved on the streets and buildings were lightened. The national colours of Oman were to be found everywhere in the capital. I had no idea before I arrived, but it was National Day. Nationalism was on display all over.
It wasn’t until I roamed around the streets of Muscat when I found out something special was going on. Mainly kids were dressed in red-white-green, which often came with a cockscomb shaped wig. Flags of any size were visible on the streets. The people were either nationalistic, or there was some kind of event I was unaware of. When I talked up to locals I found out it was National Day in Oman, which is the birthday of their Sultan. Ironically, I stood next to his palace when I heard it.
I normally have an aversion against nationalism. I believe that nationalism is the foundation for hate. The more you love what’s yours, the more difficult it is to empathize others. It probably also has something to do with the fact I’m a Dutchie. Saying (out loud) that you love the king, prime minister or anyone else with a formal function, is very uncommon. The only times it’s tolerated to show nationalism is when either the Dutch national football team plays at the European or World Championship, or on King’s Day. Although on both occasions it’s rather about having a reason to party, than actually being deeply in love with your country.
I felt totally different in Oman though. People were showing their love for their country and sultan and were obviously proud. Every time I met Omanis and talked about their country, especially on their national day, they would tell me how great their leader is. It didn’t feel like they were telling this only because they were indoctrinated or out of fear for the government, but because the Omanis truly believe it. In a region with so many conflicts, Oman seemed a very stable country which is unlikely to change in the near future.
Although you can easily recognize the difference in wealth between Omanis and immigrants in daily life, the immigrants were as well participating in the celebrations. I attended a sub event in the Al-Qurm Park, where the biggest minorities welcomed the visitors with the best their culture has to offer. National snacks and dishes were handed out for free, often homemade, kids were performing on a stage etc. I easily spent a whole evening without getting bored. Both the immigrants and natives were very happy to have a conversation with me.
Unfortunately I missed one of the biggest celebrations, the event in the national stadium. I was told many kids were performing on the pitch. It sounded like a small version of the Korean mass games, which I would have loved to see.
National Day in Oman is not one day
Contrary to what you’d expect from the term ‘National Day’, the celebrations don’t last only one day. The national day is on 18 November, the Sultan’s birthday. The events last up to two weeks though. Several events happen every day, but no one ever seems to know what is happening where and when. So most of the times I just stumbled upon one. I attended a decorated motorbike/car gathering, the previously mentioned cultural exchange and talked to some people who were participating in a rally. But even without participating in an event, there’s not a moment you forget about the National Day, due to all the decorations on the streets.
Apart from the fact that I loved Oman anyway, I think my timing to visit Oman in the very week couldn’t have been any better. The weather was still lovely (I’d have loved to wear shorts) and the events for the National Day in Oman made the atmosphere very pleasant. That surely helped to put Oman on my list of favourite countries.