In Hong Kong, the phenomenon has an extra intensity. Unlike places on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong has sizable Christian and Western communities, so Christmas and Jan. 1 join the Lunar New Year as important festivals.
Then there is the sheer commercialism of Hong Kong, which derives a large part of its wealth from millions of Chinese tourists.
“For every mainland Chinese who visits Singapore or New York today, there are 20 or more who go to Hong Kong,” HSBC economist Donna Kwok (郭浩庄) said in a research report this month.
By 2015, these visitors are expected to spend US$55 billion, she added.
Attractions like the territory’s nightly light-and-laser show, which involves more than 40 buildings and is organized by the Hong Kong tourism board, are important draws. Visitors flock by the thousands to see the light show each evening.
The holiday bonanza of decorative lights on buildings lasts about three months. Once Christmas and the Western New Year are over, the displays are changed to focus on Lunar New Year celebrations — the high point of the Chinese calendar — which fall in January or February.
“Merry X-mas” wishes are replaced with Chinese characters wishing good luck and wealth for the coming year. Santa Clauses become Chinese money gods, and symbols of fortune and happiness replace stars and snowflakes.
Wong’s illuminations started going up late last month and will stay up until a week or two after the start of the Year of the Snake on Feb. 10.
However, Wong stays busy year-round, looking after the manufacture of the strings of light bulbs and other equipment he needs and preparing the designs for the next season. He never recycles old images, but designs three new proposals for each decoration job that Shun Sze Lighting, the company he founded in 1976, bids for, he said.
Given that Shun Sze does about two dozen buildings a year, that is a lot of drawings, but Wong does not seem to mind.
“Every day, I think about Christmas — all year,” he said. “Santa Claus is coming — every day!”