YULETIDE FUN

Xmas finds new fans who are cre­at­ing their own tra­di­tions

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By MATT HODGES in Shang­hai

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.

GENG GUO­QING / FOR CHINA DAILY

A girl takes stock of Santa at a mall in Xuchang, He­nan prov­ince.

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