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Jun
2015

Is Christmas in China really a gift for the luxury industry?

AI WEI WEI, Guardian Christmas screen saver artwork<br />
copyright: Ai Wei Wei

In 1989, the year I was first introduced to China there was no Christmas, or at least there were no visible signs that it existed. People may have seen pictures of Santa, but the celebration we all grow up with was not part of life for the Chinese. Oh how things change; Christmas is now highly audible and visible, having been adopted some years ago by shopping malls to attract consumers and give them a further reason to spend money. So is Christmas yet another gift for those in luxury, a chance to make more money out of the Chinese consumer?

Perhaps for those with a limited knowledge of China, the idea of Christmas falling so close to Chinese New Year (CNY) may raise the question as to whether people will really spend money on both occasions, and what’s the difference between the two? CNY is the time for families to reunite as Christmas might still be for some internationally, it is based around a myth that it’s the day when the ancestors fight with Nian (meaning year in Chinese) a mythical beast, and a time for families to celebrate. As I am sure you are aware, CNY is a weeklong public holiday these days, when the people migrate back home, and the flights, trains and roads are totally congested. It’s a time for spending on food and gifts for friends, family and business associates. It’s traditionally a busy time for retailers and hotels, as money saved or gifted is spent and large dinners are enjoyed over much of the week.

So then how does Christmas compete with this traditional festival? Surprising well is the answer. Those who are 35 or below, have sometime in their childhood or youth been introduced to the joy of Christmas, and have fallen for the romanticism of it, of Santa, trees and snow. It satisfies the growing feeling amongst younger Chinese that they are global citizens, it gives them a feeling of belonging, of bonding, and they have adopted it in a big way. There is no religious significance, but for white-collar workers and the middle classes, Christmas is a time to let their hair down and relax. It’s not about paying respect to your elders, its self-indulgence and fun.

For couples its romantic, the symbols of Christmas are cute, unlike those for CNY, and although there are no public holidays and its work as usual, the feelings of goodwill and warmth are still felt by many. Don’t assume that Christmas isn’t used as a reason to party by those other than the 20 something’s; over the previous few years, government departments and officials have used the day to enjoy big dinners, and it would have been normal for a 5 star hotel to charge 8000 RMB ($1300) per head for a Christmas dinner. However, this year with the new regulations, hotels are now only charging a quarter of this, what a bargain!

For those with the money, Christmas is also a time to travel and celebrate or relax. Hong Kong and Macau used to be popular Christmas destinations, but the new regulations for travel agents that came into force in October mean that prices to these destinations have increased. Those in the Christmas spirit are now looking toward Korea and Germany as places to take a break according to one travel agent.

So is Christmas a gift for the luxury sector? Yes, very much so. Its been adopted by younger consumers, those who are now and will be the luxury consumers of tomorrow. CNY is a time of duty and family activities, and money is definitely spent, but Christmas is a time to relax, reward oneself and to be a modern international Chinese.


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