Mon, Dec 22, 2014 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Christmas’ popularity in China continues to grow


People take photographs beside Christmas-themed house and reindeer installations at a shopping district in Beijing on Wednesday last week.

Photo: EPA

Christmas — once banned in China — has exploded in the nation in recent years, with marketers using everything from saxophones and Smurfs to steam trains to get shoppers to open their wallets.

Anyone walking into a shopping mall in the nation is welcomed by an orgy of festive cheer — shop windows are bedecked with plastic Christmas trees, garlands and baubles, while the strains of Jingle Bells fill the air.

On the streets, banners reading “Happy Christmas” adorn schools and hotels, while festive messages are splashed across adverts and the media. In many restaurants, staff wear Santa Claus hats topped with felt reindeer antlers.

Christmas is celebrated widely across Asia, particularly in commercial centers like Japan and Hong Kong, where it has become a major shopping holiday shorn of most religious trappings.

It has gathered momentum in China since 2010, when then-Chinese vice president Xi Jinping (習近平) — now the nation’s head of state — popped into Father Christmas’ cabin during a visit to Finland.

“At shopping malls, Santa has become a promotional tool for pushing Christmas sales — and Chinese like to shop,” said Sara Jane Ho, founder of a finishing school popular among Beijing’s wealthy.

This year she has seen a proliferation of young Father Christmases, his traditional beard and rounded belly replaced by a saxophone, she said.

“Saxophone is seen as a very Western thing, and Santa Claus is seen as a very Western thing, so it’s almost natural they go together,” Ho said.

In fact, in China almost anything seen as Western is used to evoke Christmas — teddy bears, the Seven Dwarves, fairground carousels or even steam trains.

Last year, a shopping mall in Shanxi Province featured a giant Father Christmas, the edge of his jacket lifted as if caught by a gust of breeze in emulation of the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe.

This Christmas craze is mainly limited to young urbanites from the middle or upper classes.

“At my home in the country, people don’t celebrate Christmas. By contrast, their children who have moved to the city celebrate it. On Dec. 24, they meet with friends and go out to have fun,” said Guo Dengxiu, a migrant from Anhui Province.

Many Christmas “traditions” have been brought back by young Chinese who have studied abroad, Ho said, meaning the holiday often bears more resemblance to Valentine’s Day than the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“In the West, you have a big meal with your family, just cooked at home, you exchange gifts, and afterwards you would attend a Church service,” she said. “In China, you have a big meal at a restaurant, with friends or with your romantic significant other — so it’s a romantic date — and it would be followed by going to the cinema, karaoke, clubbing or a costume party.”

The commercial importance of Christmas in China is typified in the eastern city of Yiwu, which supplies about 60 percent of the world’s decorations, where a dip in international orders has been filled by domestic demand.

However, traditional Chinese holidays, such as Lunar New Year, remain more important occasions for families to get together, Fudan University professor Benoit Vermander told reporters.

He sees China’s love of Christmas as “a close mixture between attraction to ‘globalized’ Western customs and a fascination with religion, which is clearly shown by the popularity of Christianity in the big cities of the East.”

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