XITAN VILLAGE, CHINA — In Xitan, China’s “Christmas Village,” it’s easy to see that holiday trinkets are big business. However, this Christmas, unlike in past years, there are no public celebrations or Christmas lights lining the streets.
Xitan is nestled in the mountains of the eastern province of Zhejiang, just downstream from a large reservoir. The weather is cool this time of year, but there is definitely no snow and it’s nothing like Santa’s frigid North Pole workshop.
Even so, Xitan shipped about $100 million in ornaments and decorations to places as far away as Europe, the United States and Brazil.
Wang Lianming is the head of one of Xitan's earliest Christmas decoration companies, Ruian D-Bright Arts and Crafts, and the village party chief.
Wang said that while the overseas market is still the main focus of D-Bright's business, interest in the holiday is growing in China as well.
"In the past, Christmas was just a holiday celebrated overseas, few here in China knew much about it," he said. "But in recent years, celebration of the holiday in China has been catching on, as has the sale of ornaments and trinkets."
Before D-Bright started handcrafting Christmas ornaments, it made disco balls, and still does. Like many other factories here, the company is branching out to make trinkets for other Western holidays as well, even Halloween and masks for Brazil's Carnival.
Xitan is home to about 3,000 people. The narrow streets and surrounding hills make up a network of some 40 larger factories and around 200 smaller workshops.
At one warehouse just outside of the village, a man surnamed Peng is dipping rows of ornament tops in a soupy, noxious-smelling paint. Peng is not from Xitan, but brought his family here to work.
Peng said that while there are too many factories here and the environment is not as nice as his hometown in Hunan, the work puts food on the table.
"I will go wherever the work is, as long as I can make some money that is all that matters," said Peng.
Xitan has a large number Christian population, but some say it is the village's knack for handicrafts, not religion, that has made the making of ornaments such a staple industry here.
One factory owner, Wang Songjiang, said he knows little about the meaning behind the decorations or the holiday.
"Christmas is a holiday for foreigners, we don't really know what it is all about. It's enough for us to know that these ornaments are for the celebration of Christmas, and that we can do business and earn money," said Wang.
However, for some in Xitan, Christmas is a time of religious celebration. At times, that has given rise to controversy. Two years ago, when the village was hosting a celebration of the town's Christmas industry, some say local Christians turned the activity into a religious affair. Local Christians say authorities "pulled the plug" on an approved event.
Village party chief Wang Lianming said the event was canceled because it was felt that a religious tone was inappropriate for the ceremony. "We stopped holding the celebration because of religious issues and the religious tone some wanted to give to the event. It is not right to take a cultural event and turn it into a religious event," said Wang.
Wang said the event was meant to be more a celebration of how Xitan has made a name for itself, and its ability to create and find business opportunities, than a celebration of the holiday itself.