Don't ask people in Yiwu, China, about Christmas. They just make it.

The wholesale market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. The city supplies cheap consumer goods to the chain stores and malls of ...
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The wholesale market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province. The city supplies cheap consumer goods to the chain stores and malls of the world.

There are no elves, no snowpiles and it is thousands of miles from the North Pole: but what is really missing from the real-life Santa's Workshop - a grimy Chinese town that produces 60 per cent of the world's festive paraphernalia - is any interest in Christmas.

"I have absolutely no idea what this is," a migrant worker named Wang says, holding aloft a bauble emblazoned with a smiling red-nosed reindeer that she had just crafted at a factory in Yiwu, south of Shanghai.

In a couple of weeks, the decoration will be hung from a Christmas tree in a Western household among dozens of sparkling, glittering decorations that were probably produced in the city in eastern China.

Santa's Grotto. The trimmings of Christmas in Rangiora were probably made by Chinese workers who know nothing of the ...
Richard Connelly/FAIRFAX NZ

Santa's Grotto. The trimmings of Christmas in Rangiora were probably made by Chinese workers who know nothing of the festive season tradition.

Wang works at Dongyang Nuoya Art & Crafts Co, one of 800 Yiwu businesses that produce decorations worth more than a billion yuan ($202 million) each year.

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The company sells baubles and trimmings that it makes from a production base in a crumbling eight-storey multi-use industrial centre in Yiwu's hilly suburbs.

It is a grey, silent, concrete district, where workers with sullen faces earn about 10 yuan ($2) an hour. Rubbish areas strewn with dirty Father Christmas beards and plastic reindeer legs are the only signs that this is China's Christmas town.

The landscape is far removed from the thatched, snow-covered cottages commonly depicted as workshops in the fairytales, but the sound of jingling bells as one approaches Dongyang Nouya's factory is unmistakable.

Inside, a dozen thirtysomething women are fastening bells onto bright purple trimmings, while others glue images of Father Christmas, snowmen and reindeer onto white polystyrene balls, transforming them into baubles.

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"Workers at the factory do not know what all the stuff they are working on is used for," said Yang Fuyun, who owns the company.

"They just focus on production and how much they can earn. It's the same with most of the factories in the city."

But a lack of seasonal cheer doesn't stop it being Christmas every day in Yiwu.

The city of a million people is home to what is reputedly the world's biggest wholesale market, which houses shops packed with endless boxes of tinsel, Father Christmas hats, 1.8 metre high plastic reindeers and rows of Christmas trees. Yiwu is a trading boomtown that produces endless numbers of goods commonly found in discount stores across the world.

Christmas goods make up a large proportion of these exports, but Yiwu also benefits from rising Chinese interest in the traditionally Western festival. Communist China banned Christmas half a century ago as religion was outlawed during the Cultural Revolution and there is still no national holiday on December 25.

But the commercial aspects of Christmas are booming, as almost all the glitzy malls and High Streets are decked with decorations, and present giving has become increasingly common. The festive season is also gaining popularity due to the rise of Christianity in China, where many who have gained wealth from the country's economic boom are searching for answers to life's more meaningful questions.

China's Christian population is thought to number about 100 million, and experts predict it will increase to almost 250 million people by 2030 - making China the most Christian nation on earth.

Churches in big cities are packed in the run-up to Christmas, but many of those attending are seeking to feel more "Christmassy", and have little knowledge of the story of Jesus Christ.

But the trend does show that Christmas is becoming part of Chinese life - particularly among city-dwellers and the middle classes. In that respect, it is perhaps unsurprising that the workers in Yiwu, who are often migrants who have come from poor rural provinces, have little interest in Christmas.

And there doesn't appear to be much inclination locally to educate the workers on how the fruits of their labour will inject festive cheer to millions in the coming weeks.

"What's the point in our workers knowing anything about Christmas? It means nothing," said Cai Qinliang, the deputy head of the Christmas Gifts Association in Yiwu.

"People are not thankful for Christmas; they can make money by making other things if there was no Christmas," he said. "It's nothing more than a holiday anyway."

 - The Telegraph, London

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