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Christmas craze fills Chinese malls, if not its churches

Christmas commerce – and karaoke – are proving highly popular in China.

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Qu Yi and her son Dabao admire a Christmas installation outside a mall in downtown Beijing. Christmas in China has no religious connotations, but is increasingly celebrated with shopping sprees.

Peter Ford/The Christian Science Monitor

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And you thought Christmas was over-commercialized where you live.

There may be around 70 million Christians in China, but they are emphatically not the reason why you cannot walk down a street in Beijing at the moment without bumping into a Christmas tree, or having “Jingle Bells” blared at you from a storefront.

In a country where consumerism is an all-embracing craze, Christmas is “a celebration for young people seeking to be fashionable and retailers seeking to be profitable,” says Xia Xueluan, a professor of Sociology at Peking University. “Christmas in China is not celebrated at home or in church, but in the mall.”

Christmas has nothing to do with Chinese culture, and all the seasonal symbols – the tinsel-and-baubled Christmas trees outside shopping centers, the glitter-strewn reindeer and artificial snowdrifts in store windows, the jovial white-bearded Santa Claus cutouts everywhere – are all borrowed lock, stock, and barrel from the west.

China, of course, churns out almost all the world’s Christmas decorations. But fewer and fewer of them ever make it to a store near you. A recent Chinese customs agency report estimated that 30 percent of the Christmas products manufactured in China are sold in China.

And hanging them out on your shop-front works. December sales at big malls and supermarkets jump to 15 to 30 percent above normal levels, says Wang Xianqing, a sales expert at the University of Business Studies in Guangdong.

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