In Abu Dhabi, Christmas comes decked with gold

In Abu Dhabi, Christmas comes decked with gold
A Christmas tree which has been decked out with $11 million worth of gold and precious stones stands at the lobby of the Emirates Palace hotel on Thursday Dec. 16, 2010.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - When they deck the halls in opulent Abu Dhabi, it comes with gold ornaments and gem-studded bows on a towering Christmas tree.

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The $11 million symbol of the season has become the latest extravagance at the Emirates Palace hotel, which boasts its own marina, heliport and a vending machine that pops out small gold bars.

The hotel's general manager, Hans Olbertz, was quoted in local newspapers Thursday as saying the 43-foot (13-meter) faux fir has 131 ornaments that include gold and precious stones such as diamonds and sapphires.

Olbertz told Dubai's Gulf News that he worked with one of the jewelers in the hotel to create a "unique tree and experience for our guests this year." The hotel may later contact Guinness World Records for a possible bid as the world's most expensive Christmas tree.

The Guinness web site lists a $10.8 million tree put in 2002 in Toyko with 83 pieces of jewelry from Piaget Japan.

Christmas spirit is not rare in the United Arab Emirates, which is officially Muslim but hosts a huge foreign population. Malls are full of carolers, Santas and piped-in yuletide songs.

But not everyone's jolly. Some Emirati officials worry about threats to Gulf traditions from the wave of Western culture from holiday celebrations to Hollywood movies.