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Chinese take to feverish Christmas

By  Shi Jing and Li Xinzhu  (China Daily)

09:31, December 24, 2012

The first Christmas market in Xintiandi in downtown Shanghai. From Dec 19 to New Year's Day, the European-style Christmas market combines China's New Year festival with a traditional festive European bazaar. (Provided to China Daily)

"Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat. Please put a penny in the old man's hat."

It's the opening two lines of a traditional Christmas ditty but in this instance it is symbolic of what's happening in the world: The old man is in China and what he needs is more domestic consumption.

The good news at a time of year that celebrates the birth of Christ, also known as Jesus and the Messiah, is that China has latched on to this festive season as yet another way of luring customers into shops and opening wallets and purses.

Unfortunately for China, Fang Dun, an independent public relations specialist based in Shanghai, plans to upgrade her diving license in Hawaii this yuletide - and her New York-based banker husband will not accompany her. Some wives who like shopping would be grateful for that.

"It really does not matter if there is anyone going with me. I won't change my Christmas plans in any way," said the 29-year-old.

Shopping has top priority on Fang's schedule. She is a feverish follower of the latest fashion and buys all of Apple's latest products and accessories. Apart from spending two days buying daily cosmetics - enough for a year - she's chic-sensitive enough to buy two handbags, one designed by Alexander Wang and the other by Philip Lim. They show up on her Sina Weibo account in a way she finds most satisfactory.

The Chinese are probably the most welcomed customers among all retailers all over the world. French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that Chinese breakfasts are served in all landmark hotels in London and are well received. Harrods, the most prestigious department store in London, has prepared itself for the buying frenzy with 70 Mandarin-speaking shop assistants this year. It also has more than 100 Union Pay terminals directly connected to Chinese bank accounts.

Patricia Yates, director for strategy and communication at tourist promoter visitbritain, said to AFP the average Chinese visitor spends about three times as much - 1,600 pounds ($2,600) - as the average visitor to the United Kingdom.

"So they are very welcome by the retail industry at the moment because it has seen domestic demand soften," she said.

Compared with 120 pounds for every Briton, Chinese shoppers spent an average of 1,310 pounds during last year's Christmas sales, according to Jace Tyrrell, a spokesman for London's New West End Company, which represents the area's retailers.

Christmas in China

Back home, the Chinese are shopping on a scale during Christmas not seen in Western countries.

The country's first Christmas market was introduced in Xintiandi in downtown Shanghai in the shape of a theme park. Stretching from Dec 19 to New Year's Day, the European-style Christmas market combines China's New Year festival with a traditional festive European bazaar.

Distinctive German cabins studded with dark green pine populate the market, offering huge discounts before 4 pm on Dec 24, Christmas Eve. Traditional Christmas drinks such as mulled wine are also available. A 12-meter-tall fir tree decorated with colorful lights stands at the entrance to make it even more festive. Tailor-made postcards are also available so customers can send off greetings.

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