The Chinese people tend to be fiercely proud and protective of their traditions. And outside of big cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, Christmas is not one of those traditions.
At least it hasn’t been in the past. As Chinese wealth rises and tastes become more adventurous, the trappings of this decidedly Western celebration of consumption are starting to creep into the country’s vast rural countryside—with an assist from e-commerce.
According to Alibaba Group, online purchases conducted through the e-commerce company’s village-level service centers have in the past two months included Christmas trees, Santa Claus costumes and a host of other holiday folderol. Christmas accessories sold through the centers surged more than tenfold in November compared with the previous month, Alibaba reported, while sales for the entire “festival accessories and ornaments” product category grew 73 percent in the same period.
Purchases included 177 orders from Guangfuan Village in Hubei Province since October (Alibaba offered no explanation, but apparently everyone in town caught the holiday spirit) and three 9-foot-tall plastic Christmas trees bought by a luggage manufacturer in Anhui Province’s Sanxing Village to dress up the company’s annual variety show.
Of course, it’s common for local cultures all over the world to adopt and modify the habits of the outside world, especially as affluence rises. Chinese villagers, tea-drinkers for thousands of years, have apparently started to develop a taste for coffee, for example. Sales of coffee purchased through Alibaba rural service centers in November grew 64 percent compared with the previous month, the company said. Because there are no Starbucks in the hinterlands, an enterprising resident of Shanzhuang Village in Jiangsu Province recently purchased several coffee-vending machines, which reportedly drew long queues as locals jostled each other to get a hot cuppa.
Alibaba attributes the sudden appearance of Santa in remote towns to a peripatetic younger generation whose members travel to China’s mega-cities for work and then return home, carrying with them Western cultural baggage picked up during their travels.
Another explanation: China’s sparse retail infrastructure in the countryside means residents have not had an opportunity to deck their halls every December because merchants are not fool enough to stock holiday merchandise for which there is no demand. But with online shopping spreading to rural areas, people in places like Guangfuan Village today can impulse buy a tricked-out, lighted Christmas tree and have it delivered locally without blowing the year’s rice budget.
And who knows, Christmas might yet gain a permanent market foothold in the countryside. Alibaba reported that the owner of a gift shop in Yuzhuang Village in Shandong Province recently purchased 17,000 Santa hats through the local service center. The shopkeeper is selling the hats in the shop and at local schools and parks. Can chocolate Easter bunnies be far behind?