ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - December 23, 2008: Intercontinental hotel staff sing Christmas carols from December 13 to  24th at 5pm for 30 minutes a day. 
( Ryan Carter / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  RC005-XmasCarols.jpg
The Intercontinental Hotel staff sing carols for thirty minutes every day around Christmastime.

Joy to the lobby

Gingerbread and carolers come to Abu Dhabi's hotels, Sarah Wolff writes.

The hotel staff choir at the Abu Dhabi Intercontinental Hotel sing with trained precision: "Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling you hoo....you HOO!" No one seems to care a figgy pudding that there hasn't been snowfall in the United Arab Emirates since, well, ever. Christmas cheer will be had, no matter what. In the UAE, known to the rest of the world for its flashy glamour, it's not a surprise that Christmas is also done to the hilt, even though the majority of residents come from places that don't celebrate the holiday. Just walking up to the front door of the hotel, visitors are greeted with rows of red and white poinsettia lining the driveway, twinkling lights strewn about the hedges and at least three christmas trees decorated tastefully, if brightly, with red and gold balls. Even the revolving door, which features two glass window boxes, houses chic gray topiary trees with gold tinsel, just in case guests haven't yet realised it's Christmas.

Once inside, there is a huge and functional gingerbread house where guests can buy holiday treats from around the world, such as German pfefernussen - crumbly shortbreads covered in powdered sugar - and Italian pannetone - a giant brioche studded with candied fruits. The oven-baked house at the Intercon is an A-frame, perhaps a cheeky reference to the 1970s. But it's not the only gingerbread monument in town: the Sheraton corniche hotel in Abu Dhabi decided to let form follow function, building its edible edifice around its coffee shop counter, so that staffers serve cappuccinos and the like from gingerbread takeout windows.

But the main event at the Intercon is the choir's floor show of caroling, for which the singers have practiced nearly every day for about a month. The chorus has 22 members, nearly all of them Filipino and all from different parts of the hotel's staff. They swish into place wearing a blush-inducing combo of red satin sleeveless capes and Santa hats. Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone and Bass sections are all lined up into neat rows set up on the main steps of the lobby piano lounge. The choir sings Christmas ditties like Jingle Bell Rock - a song that has no religious significance but does somehow evoke boozy office Christmas parties - alongside church classics such O Come All Ye Faithful, as sunburned tourists from Europe stroll in and out, sometimes pausing for a minute or two.

There are also a few tables of Arab businessmen who are smoking and deal-making. They seem totally unbothered by the loud singing and proceed without any visible acknowledgement of the carolers. A European mum comes to sit right in the front with her two little boys, the smaller of which, a toddler, begins to howl along with the tunes. Every day at around six o'clock, after 30 minutes of cheerful singing, the choir goes back into a private room where they review their performance. "It's a time we can all get together and laugh at our mistakes," says Josie, an executive secretary who has been with the Abu Dhabi Intercontinental for 24 years. "It's fun actually." The choir keeps in reserve one song in Tagalog, Pasko Na Naman (It's Christmas Again), which they don't perform every afternoon but sing only when the spirit moves them.

Ivan "Magic" Mejica, the security supervisor at the hotel, conducts the choir and even sings a lovely solo on O Holy Night. A tenor who has been singing since high school, Mejica says he ended up conducting the choir only because everyone else was too timid to step up. "I used to sing in church too as a tenor," says Mejica, a former member of the Filipino military with a buzz cut hairdo and the requisite security-team accessory, a walkie-talkie, hanging inside his jacket. His favorite carol to sing, conduct and hear is Silent Night. "When I sing it, I feel the presence of the music," he says. "I love soft songs - when I hear them it's like a form of unwinding."


‘White Elephant’

Director: Jesse V Johnson
Stars: Michael Rooker, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Olga Kurylenko
Rating: 3/5


Company: Vault
Started: June 2023
Co-founders: Bilal Abou-Diab and Sami Abdul Hadi
Based: Abu Dhabi
Licensed by: Abu Dhabi Global Market
Industry: Investment and wealth advisory
Funding: $1 million
Investors: Outliers VC and angel investors
Number of employees: 14

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

From Europe to the Middle East, economic success brings wealth - and lifestyle diseases

A rise in obesity figures and the need for more public spending is a familiar trend in the developing world as western lifestyles are adopted.

One in five deaths around the world is now caused by bad diet, with obesity the fastest growing global risk. A high body mass index is also the top cause of metabolic diseases relating to death and disability in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – and second on the list in Bahrain.

In Britain, heart disease, lung cancer and Alzheimer’s remain among the leading causes of death, and people there are spending more time suffering from health problems.

The UK is expected to spend $421.4 billion on healthcare by 2040, up from $239.3 billion in 2014.

And development assistance for health is talking about the financial aid given to governments to support social, environmental development of developing countries.

Company profile

Name: Yodawy
Based: Egypt
Founders: Karim Khashaba, Sherief El-Feky and Yasser AbdelGawad
Total funding: $24.5 million
Investors: Algebra Ventures, Global Ventures, MEVP and Delivery Hero Ventures, among others
Number of employees:


Director: Rajesh A Krishnan

Starring: Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kriti Sanon

Rating: 3.5/5

Last 10 NBA champions

2017: Golden State bt Cleveland 4-1
2016: Cleveland bt Golden State 4-3
2015: Golden State bt Cleveland 4-2
2014: San Antonio bt Miami 4-1
2013: Miami bt San Antonio 4-3
2012: Miami bt Oklahoma City 4-1
2011: Dallas bt Miami 4-2
2010: Los Angeles Lakers bt Boston 4-3
2009: Los Angeles Lakers bt Orlando 4-1
2008: Boston bt Los Angeles Lakers 4-2


Name: Elmawkaa
Based: Hub71, Abu Dhabi
Founders: Ebrahem Anwar, Mahmoud Habib and Mohamed Thabet
Sector: PropTech
Total funding: $400,000
Investors: 500 Startups, Flat6Labs and angel investors
Number of employees: 12

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

The specs

Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 620hp from 5,750-7,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm from 3,000-5,750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh1.05 million ($286,000)

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

12 restaurants opening at the hotel this month

Ariana’s Persian Kitchen
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Estiatorio Milos
House of Desserts
Jaleo by Jose Andres
La Mar
Ling Ling
Little Venice Cake Company
Malibu 90265
Nobu by the Beach
Resonance by Heston Blumenthal
The Royal Tearoom 

How to avoid getting scammed
  • Never click on links provided via app or SMS, even if they seem to come from authorised senders at first glance
  • Always double-check the authenticity of websites
  • Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for all your working and personal services
  • Only use official links published by the respective entity
  • Double-check the web addresses to reduce exposure to fake sites created with domain names containing spelling errors
Indoor cricket World Cup:
Insportz, Dubai, September 16-23

UAE fixtures:

Saturday, September 16 – 1.45pm, v New Zealand
Sunday, September 17 – 10.30am, v Australia; 3.45pm, v South Africa
Monday, September 18 – 2pm, v England; 7.15pm, v India
Tuesday, September 19 – 12.15pm, v Singapore; 5.30pm, v Sri Lanka
Thursday, September 21 – 2pm v Malaysia
Friday, September 22 – 3.30pm, semi-final
Saturday, September 23 – 3pm, grand final

Saturday, September 16 – 5.15pm, v Australia
Sunday, September 17 – 2pm, v South Africa; 7.15pm, v New Zealand
Monday, September 18 – 5.30pm, v England
Tuesday, September 19 – 10.30am, v New Zealand; 3.45pm, v South Africa
Thursday, September 21 – 12.15pm, v Australia
Friday, September 22 – 1.30pm, semi-final
Saturday, September 23 – 1pm, grand final


Favourite place to go to in the UAE: The desert sand dunes, just after some rain

Who inspires you: Anybody with new and smart ideas, challenging questions, an open mind and a positive attitude

Where would you like to retire: Most probably in my home country, Hungary, but with frequent returns to the UAE

Favorite book: A book by Transilvanian author, Albert Wass, entitled ‘Sword and Reap’ (Kard es Kasza) - not really known internationally

Favourite subjects in school: Mathematics and science