Xmas finds new fans who are creating their own traditions
While most Chinese still regard Christmas as a foreign flight of fancy, the commercial trappings of what many Westerners view as the most magical time of the year are inexorably gaining traction among the country’s growing middle class— often through their offspring.
“My boy told me he has written a letter to Santa asking for a Hot Wheels toy car, which he really wants,” says He Jiajing. “The reason is that Hot Wheels can’t break easily,” she adds.
At just 6 years of age, her son Zhao Junxi is already fed up with settling for second best, or local products marked by lower standards of workmanship.
Whether it be foreigners who are paid to dress up like Santa at bazaars and malls, gift-wrapped Transformer toys and cotton-candy sets, or overpriced turkeys for home delivery, it’s becoming harder to escape the signs of Yuletide in cities across the country.
China became the world’s second-largest retail market for traditional toys and games last year, according to Euromonitor, and as the government loosens controls on its longstanding family planning policy, themarket is likely to keep growing.
Spending on children jumped from 74 billion yuan ($11.9 billion) in 2005 to 165.3 billion yuan in 2009 and is forecast to almost double to 311.1 billion yuan this year, Beijing Business Today reported in an article inMay.
One of the spillover effects of this, together with growing disposable income and a general embracing of foreign culture, especially in cities like Shanghai, is aboominChristmas toy sales.
Toys R Us embarked on a rapid expansion drive this year, opening 23 new outlets across the country to tap growing demand.
“Christmas is fast gaining popularity in China, where customers adopt the custom of gift-giving,” saysMarkMurphy, managing director of the chain’s China operations. “We continue to see strong sales growth over last year. We expect this trend to continue in December.”
“Many of our products are unique to China,” he adds. “We also have the ability here to develop toy trends and get theminto themarket quickly.”
The chain will hold a number of promotional events in Shanghai over the festive period as more Chinese or mixed-race children see how their foreign peers celebrate and don’t want to miss out.
“I think I want some Legos this year. I have a dog already, oneChihuahua and oneGolden Retriever, so I don’t want another one,” says 11-year-old Max Allwright, whose foreign parents moved to Shanghai shortly after he was born.
ToysRUs says it brings Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine to YangpuWanda Plaza from Dec 21 to 25. It organized a show earlier this month featuring interactive learning toys at Xinzhuang Cloud Nine, another popular department store in the city. It also runs online activities such as “My Christmas Wish List” on its Sina Weibo micro blog.
Murphy expects the topselling toys at his stores in China this Christmas will mostly be foreign brands, such as Mattel’s Hot Wheels toy cars and VTech’s Axl the Ankylosaurus transforming dinosaur. But Chinese parents’ practical natures still represent a huge barrier to sales.
“Chinese parents tend to see toys as an educational tool or a reward rather than a simple gift, so there will of course be some rubbing off from the West, but I can’t see traditional purchasing habits changing anytime soon,” says Richard Gottlieb, president and founder of Global Toy Experts.
Elizabeth Kycelt, 10, comes from a multicultural family. Her father is Austrian and her mother is Chinese. She says this Christmas she is going to Beijing to be with her mother’s family.
“Usually Chinese don’t celebrate Christmas, but if I’m with them, they will,” says Kycelt, who studies at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai.
A girl takes stock of Santa at a mall in Xuchang, Henan province.