Santa goes jingling all the way to the bank

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Believe it or not, Xmas season spreads a lot of shopping cheer.

Trinh Bich Hau, shaded from the bright sunshine by her white wide-brimmed hat, stopped at a souvenir shop where Christmas trees, cards, bells, lights and other decorations were displayed in an eye-catching manner.

She quickly snatched a bunch of Santa Claus outfits that were selling fast.

“I am buying them for my little son. He will wear them at my office’s upcoming Christmas party,” Hau said, after paying VND100,000 (US$5.6) for a set. “I think that he will like them very much.”

To many non-believers like Hau, Christmas is an opportunity to shop and entertain with families and friends, not a time for religious reflection.

Colorfully decked out in Christmas trees with strobe lights and Santa Clauses in white, fluffy snow, souvenir shops in Hanoi’s downtown streets of Hang Ma, Luong Van Can, Hang Luoc and Ma May are bringing glittering festive cheer to the area. Some of the festival paraphernalia are locally produced and others are imported, mainly from China.

SANTA HAS GIFTS, AND ADVICE

Nearly 30 tourism agencies, supermarkets and gift shops in Ho Chi Minh City will have Santa Claus talk to children about what they want and what their parents want of them.

These places will also send the pot-bellied, white bearded old men to deliver gifts to groups for around VND500,000 (US$27) every two hours, to individuals for between VND20,000-50,000 depending on the distance.

The prices have been raised 5-10 percent over last year with the service providers blaming higher fuel prices, worse traffic jams and more street barriers.

Advertisements by those offering the service also mention the green fences to ask for customers’ sympathy in advance if Santa Claus comes in late. (SGTT)

Nguyen Thu Huong, owner of a shop in Hang Ma Street, said she has been kept busy serving customers from the beginning of December, despite hiring two more shop assistants.

Customers are mainly office clerks buying decorations for their offices, and young people, she said. Xmas trees, Santa Claus, and Santa Claus outfits are the favored purchases.

That day, Huong sold nearly 10 Xmas trees and dozens of Santa Claus outfits. She said the number of customers this year has increased slightly compared to last year, while prices have risen by 10-30 percent.

One 1.5-meter Xmas tree costs at least VND320,000 ($17.8), up 10 percent. Trees that are 4-8 meters tall, often used by hotels, restaurants and offices, sell for VND5-8 million ($273.67-437.88).

But trees do not look beautiful without a pair of bells worth VND20,000-300,000. The prices of the bells have also increased by some 15 percent, Huong said.

Santa Clauses are priced from VND200,000 to VND2 million ($109.47), depending on the size, while Santa outfits cost from VND50,000-300,000 per set.

Most shop owners said the price increase was mainly due to higher rent and transportation costs.

Shop owner Le Thu Hai on Bach Mai Street said this Christmas season she was mainly selling products with reasonable prices, as expensive ones were attracting few customers. “Sales are not much higher than last year, so expensive and imported decorations are only available at upscale stores.”

Happy to cash in

Other merchants are also winners during the Christmas season. Most shops are full of people splurging for the holiday, and shopping malls and supermarkets have launched big promotion campaigns.

Co.opMart is offering discounts of up to 35 percent for hundreds of decorations and foodstuff from December 7-12, while Big C is giving 7-20 percent off on 300 items, including toys, garments, and decorations.

“Christmas is a good opportunity for shopping because many shops offer significant discounts,” 20-year-old Thai Thu Huong said, spending over an hour at Vincom Tower, an upscale department store where French perfumes and Italian shoes are sold to an emerging urban middle class.

“We are doing very well,” said Do Minh Nhat, owner of a clothes shop in Truong Dinh Street. With a 10 percent discount on all items, his sales have gone up by 20 percent.

Hotels, restaurants, cinemas and theaters have all joined the act in a big way, with most promotions targeting young couples.

Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are seeing a lot of purchasing power. “People in the cities are more prosperous and want to enjoy the holiday,” said Nhat.

Santa who?

Unlike in urban areas, Christmas is a strange concept for rural residents, whose earnings are far less than the country’s annual per capita income. And decorations only leave them bemused.

“That [the day] is not our holiday. We do not earn enough for everyday meals, let alone gifts,” said Nguyen Thi Nu, a middle-aged nanny from northern Nam Dinh Province. “It is a day for city dwellers with much money.”

Reported by Ngan Anh

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