News of a Chinese university banning Christmas to avoid “corrosive” Western culture could fool some into believing that atheist China is the world’s biggest Christmas Grinch. In reality, it is anything but.
Christmas has become a firmly established occasion among festival-thirsty Chinese consumers , filling the period between the illustrious shopping frenzy of Singles’ Day and the inevitable red lanterns, dog sculptures and giant inflatable pooches of the coming Lunar New Year.
Whilst Christmas may still be a working day in China, many cities have embraced the Christian festival. Central boulevards and malls have been illuminated with decorations that play well to local consumers’ love of twinkly lights and neon. On weekends, European-style Christmas markets fill public spaces in China’s larger cities, with expats being outnumbered by a greater portion of mulled-wine sipping locals every year.
Shanghai in particular would outdo many Western cities with its grandiose tributes to Christmas. Yet what makes it different is that the decorations are generally erected by brands, not local municipalities or individuals. For many brands Christmas provides an opportunity to position themselves as international, modern and fun – characteristics that typically appeal to China’s much sought-after millennials and provide plenty of branded selfie-opportunities.
The commercially-funded decorations play true to Chinese consumers overall association with the Yuletide season; one of shopping discounts and themed promotions that provide an opportunity to spend time with friends, with less focus on family like in the West. Although there are 100 million Christians in China – more than the all-mighty Communist Party membership – they generally keep a low profile and are no match for the almost 1 billion WeChat users bombarded with Christmas promotions in the month of December.
China’s Commercial Christmas
Wherever there is an opportunity for commerce in China, there will also be the ever-present key opinion leaders (KOL). This month has seen plenty of KOLs peddling the Christmas cheer. A good example is fashion blogger Li Beika of Mini Cooper fame who promoted a Swarovski Christmas campaign to her 1.3 million WeChat followers, leading in with Christmas history, traditions and decoration tips in a thinly veiled strategy to promote the 60 limited edition advent-calendar style Swarovski gift packs which were quick to sell out on WeChat.
KOL Mimeng followed a similar theme with her 1.4 million WeChat fans posting 11 Christmas gift ideas for girlfriends, promoting foreign brands such as Tiffany, Michael Kors, Fuji Film, Hermes, Kate Spade, Phillips and Givenchy – luring readers with promises of free luxury lipsticks for the most popular comments, with some numbering more than 10,000 likes.
Yet it’s not just Western brands cashing in on the festivities. Chinese brands are increasingly using Christmas-themed promotions to reinforce that they aren’t just inward looking traditionalists, but modern and worldly, embracing all that is international. My personal favorite is one of China’s hottest brands right now, DJI which sell around 70% of the world’s drones. Their online stores, billboards and even advertisements on elevator walls can be seen promoting their wares with a garnish of Christmas decorations and promises of Christmas deals.
Embraced By Consumers
While China is still far from the set of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it seems the commercial spirit is infectious. China Skinny analysis into online sales found Chinese have already bought 600,000 Christmas trees and 3 million decorations , among the 20,000 Christmas-themed products just on Alibaba’s B2C platform Tmall.
Starbucks’ enormous new Reserve Roastery in Shanghai has seen caffeine cravers queue for hours for its Pine Nut White Chocolate Flavoured Mochas, other Christmas beverages and suite of Christmas merchandise
Like many things in China, Christmas has become a fascinating occasion to observe, not just from the commercial sense, but also that it signifies how China’s once closed-off society has become increasingly open and enthusiastic about foreign lifestyles and trends. 圣诞快乐 – Shèngdàn kuàilè as they say in China – Merry Christmas!