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Yiwu, China - the world's Christmas factory


If you were given a globe and told to point to Christmas you might point to the North Pole, where Santa surely lives, or Lapland, which also claims that honour. Or you might point to London, the home of many of our Dickensian Christmas traditions, or 34th Street in New York, where the film’s Christmas miracle took place.

The one place you really should be pointing to, though, is a run-down super-mall 200 miles from Shanghai in a little-known town in China, Yiwu. This is the town that manufactures Christmas.

Christmas decorations 
Image: Plastic Christmas decorations: they have to come from somewhere
Credit: Dreamstime

 

Chinese state news agency Xinhua has estimated that 60% of the entire planet’s Christmas decorations are made in Yiwu’s 600 factories. There is a huge shopping mall - it’s two square miles - where wholesalers display samples and take huge orders from retailers and middle men. Industrial quantities of cheap plastic goods are then shipped to all four corners of the world.

 

 Christmas decorations
Image: Decorations can travel the world from factory to tree
Credit: Pixabay

 This is a wholesale and distribution centre for all sorts of cheap, unbranded products all year round, but the specialisation in Christmas goods is mind-boggling.

The best inside look came when the BBC visited one of the Christmas-specific factories one swelteringly hot August. What they found was surprisingly low-tech: workers at sewing machines or with glues, sprays or fabrics hand-making several items a minute. Santa hats are sewn, decorations are moulded from plastic pellets and red felt is sprayed on to objects.

The Christmas season in Yiwu runs from spring to September. Then the factories move on to Valentine’s Day and Easter trinkets, then Halloween, then back to Christmas.

Christmas decorations
Image: Should we spend more and throw away less when it comes to decorations? Credit: PXHere

 

For a full flavour of the working conditions, which look less than ideal from a health and safety point of view, this series of photos from Sina are beautiful, dramatic and worrying.