SHENZHEN, China (AFP) - Father Christmas's grotto is not an icy cave in Lapland but the economic heart of southern China, where almost two-thirds of the world's Christmas trees and decorations are made.
In factories staffed by predominantly Buddhist workers who have scarcely any idea of the meaning of Christmas, the baubles, Santas, lights and tinsel that mark the West's biggest festival are churned out at a relentless pace.
According to Customs figures, China exported 1.6 billion US dollars worth of Christmas products in 2003, of which more than half went to the United States -- including seven artificial trees erected in the White House.
China's export of Christmas-related goods in the first nine months of 2004 amounted to 850 million US dollars.
Starting his own business only three years ago, [Cheng, a Chinese manufacturer] said one of the most difficult things about making Christmas decorations in a non-Christian country is to understand Western culture and meet its requirements.
"They have different perceptions of colours. They like white trees, which is supposed to be a funeral colour here and doesn't seem appropriate in this happy season," he said.
Despite the hi-tech fibre-optic trees his company makes, Cheng said the old-fashioned, green-needle ones are still the most popular.
Cheng's turnover this year has doubled to six million US dollars, but he says rising prices for plastic, the raw material of Christmas, along with increasing salaries, are cutting into profits.
"I should start thinking about developing products for other Western festivals, like the Valentine's Day or Halloween."
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