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Christmas Sets Chinese Cash Registers Ringing

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas," sing the speakers at a shopping mall on Shanghai's Nanjing Road as shoppers file past a garishly illuminated tree and festively decorated store windows.

There might be no tradition of celebrating Christmas in China, but that doesn't stop Shanghai's retailers from hoping the festive season will set cash tills ringing like sleigh bells.

With thousands of foreigners calling China's main commercial metropolis home and hundreds of foreign firms flocking to do business there, the city's retailers have spied an opportunity to boost sales.

"Sales this season have increased significantly due to the two holidays, Christmas and New Year, said a spokeswoman for the Shanghai Metro Jin Jiang centre, a luxury shopping mall packed with high-end goods.

Foreign firms buying gifts for employees and stocking up for office parties have helped drive much of the trade so far this season.

Local customers and Chinese companies tend to do most of their shopping around January 1 when there will be a three-day national holiday.

Young Shanghainese, eager to embrace the latest Western fashions, began taking to Christmas at the end of the 1990s, but enthusiasm for partying during the festival waned as many restaurants and discos bumped up prices ahead of the holiday season.

"When I was a student there was a fashion for celebrating Christmas, but now I think people are less interested," said one young Shanghai office worker.

However, because so many people work in Western firms or have Western friends in the city, some young locals still feel the festive spark.

"I always buy more clothes and other materials at the year-end than other times. Partly because many shops will offer attractive discounts, and also because there will be a lot of parties at this time in which you have the chance to make a show," said Chen Liying, a 25-year-old clerk at a foreign financial institution.

Showing they understand the commercial power of Christmas as well as their counterparts in the West, Shanghai's shops kicked off the season with a round of mid-month sales, offering discounts of as much as 70 percent.

While many foreign companies do not close for the holiday, local employees at overseas firms say they are catching the Christmas spirit from their employees.

"My colleagues and I are planning to have some fun at Christmas, but I rarely go shopping at this time of year because I have to work at Christmas and usually my work is busier as the year-end approaches," said 26-year-old Yao Yan, an employee of a foreign trade company.

Christmas is not the only Western holiday which local retailers have picked up and run with.

The enthusiasm for Valentine's Day in China, a merry-go-round of fluffy toys, chocolates and romantic dinners for couples, probably exceeds the fuss in many Western cities.

(China Daily December 23, 2001)

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