Emirates Palace Hotel unveils $11 million Christmas tree

Emirates PalaceTalk about a sparkling tree. The Christmas tree at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi puts anything Clark Griswold produced to shame.

Earlier this week, the hotel unveiled what might be the most expensive Christmas tree in history.

The 13-meter (a little more than 42-feet) faux evergreen sparkles in the hotel’s gold-leafed rotunda and is decorated with silver and gold bows, ball-shaped ornaments and small white lights. The tree alone is valued at $10,000 but it’s what’s dangling from the branches that makes this beauty so pricey.

The hotel spared no expense to dress its festive friend for guests. The tree is draped with

a total of 181 diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones, said Khalifa Khouri, owner of Style Gallery which provided the jewelry. Combined with its bejeweled accessories – including necklaces, earrings and other jewelry created from the gems – the tree prices out at a whopping $11 million.

We wonder what kind of presents one might find hidden under this Christmas tree…

[via ABC News, Australia]

Five hotel holiday deals in New England

Are you looking for a winter wonderland for the Christmas season? New England is a natural destination. There are plenty of deals to be found, with packages that won’t force you to choose between your trip and the number of presents under the tree. Check out the inns below from New England Inns and Resorts to see for yourself what await!

1. The Stepping Stone Spa, Lyndonville, VT
The Kingdom Trails Winter Adventure package at The Stepping Stone includes two nights at this bed and breakfast, daily breakfast, two adult tickets for snowshoeing or cross country skiing at Kingdom Trails and a $50 voucher for dinner at Jupiter’s Restaurant. Rates start at $157 per person, based on double occupancy, and the deal runs from December 17, 2010 to March 20, 2011.

2. The Wentworth, Jackson, NH
Take a look at this property for the Jingle Bells Chocolate Tour. For a rate that starts at $208, you’ll pick up a night at the Wentworth, an hour-long sleigh ride through Jackson Village (with actual jingle bells and chocolate snacks), a four-course candlelit dinner for two and a full breakfast the next morning. The deal runs from November 27, 2010 to December 18, 2010.3. Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, Lexington, MA Feeling the urge to hit the slopes before the end of the year? Check out the Berkshire Ski package at this property. For $140 per person midweek or $185 on the weekends, you can score a night at Cranwell Resort, unlimited cross country skiing, a $20 credit at any Cranwell restaurant and full use of the spa. The deal runs from December 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011.

4. The Beachmere Inn, Ogunquit, ME
Ring in the new year at the Beachmere. The New Year’s Eve by the Sea package is pulled together to make the last night of 2010 memorable. The last dinner you’ll have this year includes appetizers, buffet and dessert, not to mention dancing and party favors. Start fresh with a lavish breakfast the next morning. Two-night packages range from $530 to $595, with three nights ranging from $625 to $675.

5. Inn at Ormsby Hill, Manchester, VT
Visit the Inn at Ormsby Hill on the first two Saturdays in December for open tours of the inns in the Manchester area. Stay either the night of December 3, 2010 or December 10, 2010, and receive dinner in the evening, followed by a performance of “A Christmas Carol” at The Dorset Theatre. Open house tours run from noon to 4 PM the next day, with the $15 ticket price going to Habitat for Humanity. On your way home, you’ll have the chance to stop by a local nursery and pick up a Vermont Christmas tree to bring home!

Christmas in Spain

¡Feliz Navidad!

Spaniards are big into Christmas. The eating, the gift giving, the shopping craziness, it’s all here with a distinctly Spanish twist.

Hold off on the presents

The day for gift giving isn’t Christmas, but Epiphany on January 6. Christmas Eve isn’t a time for anticipating what’s under the tree but for sitting with the family chowing down heaps of good food while ignoring the king’s annual speech on television. Epiphany is the chance for another Big Feed. Spaniards don’t really need an excuse to have a giant dinner with all the family!
Shopping continues right into early January. After Epiphany there are Las Rebajas (“The Sales”) when stores try to get rid of their excess stock. Spaniards wanting to save money can give a notice that they’re going to buy someone something, and then buy it when the big sales come. This year many shops have started Las Rebajas early because of La Crisis. I’ll let you translate that one for yourself.

Los Reyes Magos, not Santa

Santa is known here, of course, and you see lots of inflatable Santas hanging from people’s windows, but he takes second place to the The Three Kings or Wise Men. Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltasar showed up on Epiphany to give gifts to the baby Jesus. Every year they fly into Madrid and other cities to much pomp and ceremony and go on a big parade through town.
Baltasar, the African king, is the kid’s favorite. You see him and his buddies hanging out in department stores taking requests from excited children, and kids send lists of toys to them like American kids do with Santa. Baltasar used to be played by Spaniards in blackface, something that doesn’t have the cultural baggage here that it does in the United States, although I still haven’t gotten used to seeing it! Luckily the influx of African immigrants in the past few years has provided a ready supply of real Africans to play the favorite Wise Man.
On the night of January 5 people put one of their shoes in the living room for the kings to place presents next to. It’s also nice to leave out some milk and cookies for the Kings’ camels. They have to walk all around Spain in one night and they get hungry.

%Gallery-80910%Bethlehem, not Christmas trees

Because the Wise Men are so popular there’s a long tradition of making dioramas showing them coming to see the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, Belén in Spanish. They’re called Belénes and can get quite elaborate, with entire towns containing hundreds of figures. Check out the gallery for some examples. Many private homes have a Belén and shops often put them in their windows. A pharmacy near my apartment has the best in my barrio. It fills the entire front window and takes a couple of days to set up.
Christmas trees, originally a German tradition, have never been big here. Considering the size of most Spanish apartments you couldn’t have a very impressive tree anyway! Besides, if you had a big tree there would be no room for a Belén.
Check out the gallery for some fine examples of Spanish Belénes and others from around the world, featured in an exhibition by Caja Duero on until January 10 in Madrid.

El Gordo

There’s also the big national Christmas lottery called “El Gordo”. The grand prize always runs into the millions of euros and there are lots of smaller prizes to tempt people who don’t understand statistics into playing again and again. There are so many winning numbers that the drawing takes most of the day. The numbers are sung out by schoolchildren on TV and radio and their high-pitched sing-song recitation of the numbers is one of the sounds of Christmas here.

So what about Spanish New Year? One distinct custom is that as the clock starts striking twelve you have to eat a dozen grapes before it finishes. That’s harder than you think. Other than that people hit the town, drink a lot, and make out with people they probably shouldn’t. Some traditions are universal.

English town displays lamest Christmas tree ever

“People think you can just go into the woods, chop down a tree and put it up in the high street,” says Richard Randall-Jones, a town manager for Poole in southern England. “But if it blows over and kills someone then somebody is liable.”

So instead of taking the infinitesimally small chance that the tree would put a Poole resident out of commission, the town decided to erect the world’s lamest Christmas tree. According to the Times Online, the tree has “no trunk so it won’t blow over, no branches to break off and land on someone’s head, no pine needles to poke a passer-by in the eye, no decorations for drunken teenagers to steal and no angel, presumably because it would need a dangerously long ladder to place it at the top.”

The result, as you can see from the picture above, is a giant, hideous, AstroTurf-covered traffic cone.

The tree, which cost the city about 14,000 pounds, is not exactly putting shoppers in the Christmas mood. “It’s horrible,” says 54-year-old Karen Byron. “If you are going to have a fake tree then it ought to resemble a tree. You can get some really good fake trees but this is awful. It doesn’t feel Christmassy at all.”

Another resident, Bill Scott, called the tree “a total disgrace.” “I’m an army man,” he said, “and it would be wrong for me to express my real feelings in language other people might hear.”

More here.

Rockefeller Christmas tree chosen and en route

For a tree-grower, there’s no honor greater than to have yours chosen to sit at the center of the Christmas universe: Rockefeller Center. This year, the winner is Maria Corti. A 10-ton, 76-foot Norway spruce was cut down in her Easton, Connecticut backyard on Wednesday and is being carted down to Manhattan. She called Rockefeller Plaza more than nine months ago to make the offer. This was one of dozens of trees pitched for the big event this year.

Corti is not a tree farmer. Rather, she’s a fifth grade teacher who happened to have tree seven decades old in her yard. And, as she told the New York Post, “I’d like to share this tree with the people of the world.” The tree is expected to hit midtown today and will be lit on December 2, 2009. Corti’s spruce helped Connecticut recapture the Rock Center honor. Last year’s tree came from Hamilton, New Jersey.

[Photo by cchen via Flickr]