When Santa arrived in China this year with his reindeer to buy gifts, he found it hard to afford them, said a manager of a small Chinese company that exports Christmas products.
The global financial crisis, it seems, has even shrunk Santa's purse.
"Americans' consumption of Christmas products fell this year," said Fang Jianping, sales manager of the Zhongxing Company, which exports Christmas products to the United States from Meixian County, Guangdong Province.
"The new orders aren't too profitable. We'll only make ends meet," Fang said.
Zhongxing met its orders in October and sold all of the "reindeers" and "snowmen" for 220,000 U.S. dollars, but there were no orders for artificial trees or lights to decorate them. Overseas buyers told the small company that this year, Americans were dragging their old trees out of the basement and cleaning them up, rather than buying new ones.
And after the production season ended, Fang virtually eliminated his staff, cutting the payroll from 100 workers to two.
No peak this year
With the financial crisis crunching Western consumers, the peak season never came for the type of Chinese exports that usually end up as gifts, said Wang Tie, general-secretary of Toys and Gifts Industry Association of Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong Province.
"We don't expect to increase exports this year. We're just hoping not to drop," Wang said. "Santa's wallet is empty."
It's not just Santa. Some Chinese company employees are also finding their wallets are empty.
Zhang Yi, an auditor in the Shanghai office of an international consulting company, said that he and his colleagues were ordered to take a month's unpaid leave around Christmas.
"There are few cases for us at the moment. Winter used to be a peak season for companies like mine," Zhang said.
"I have leave but no plans," he said, adding that many colleagues had been laid off and he was worried.
His New Year wish is simple, he said: "Keep my job."
Zhang said some of his colleagues still plan to celebrate the Western festival, some by shopping, others by dining.
"I can still feel a Christmas atmosphere in the Shanghai streets ... so many trees and lights," he said.
Businesses offer bargains
Stores and restaurants are eager to advertise. Christmas dinner is an important source of revenue for hotel owners.
The five-star Beijing Tianlun Dynasty Hotel has cut Christmas dinner prices from 2,888 yuan (about 425 U.S. dollars) last year to 888 yuan.
A manager said the hotel began to decorate the dining room as long as three months ago and lit up the 5 meter Christmas tree 20 days ago.
The crisis means "more effort is needed to attract customers. Fortunately, most of the Christmas dinner tickets have been sold."
Promotions by department stores and e-tailers are having an impact. Many people are grabbing the chance to buy discounted gifts for friends and family.
"I ordered a toy online for my son as a Christmas gift two days ago, but I'm still waiting," said Zhou Xing, a media employee in Beijing. The site told her that there were so many orders, deliveries were backed up. "It seems many people still decided to buy gifts, despite the crisis."
Businessmen like Fang see glimmers of hope for next year. He attended the China Import and Export Fair (Canton Trade Fair) in Guangzhou last month.
Although he saw more "snowmen" than customers in his exhibit section, he said his company found a new material to make fluffy reindeer, which brought them new clients.
"The reindeer filled the gap the Christmas trees left," he said. "I think Santa will come next year to make a larger purchase."
(Xinhua News Agency December 24, 2008)