Christmas has secured a spot on the Chinese calendar as a cherished excuse to buy, buy, buy. And while Christianity is indeed spreading in the officially atheist country, many shoppers have only a faint idea of the holiday's religious connection.
But their manner of celebration is sure to win the blessing of at least one group: economists.
"It's not really a real holiday," said Benny Zhang, 29, a computer programmer outside a Beijing mall with his wife. "It's just a nice atmosphere for shopping and a chance to swap gifts with each other."
Economists long despaired that the Chinese propensity to save, not spend, was storing up trouble should China's exports falter and hurting the world economy because it was not buying enough from abroad.
Even as China has become wealthier, the savings culture has been reinforced by the dismantling of the social-security system, which forced ordinary people to keep enough money on hand for education, medicine and old age.
But Christmas reveals that Chinese consumers, buoyed by fast-rising incomes, have now burst on the scene with a fervor for shopping that someday might rival their U.S. counterparts.
....Seven of the world's 10 biggest shopping malls will be in China by 2010....
Hard numbers show why. Retail sales rose 18.8 percent in November from a year earlier, marking the fastest growth since 1999, the National Bureau of Statistics reported this month.
An Mi, spokeswoman for one of China's biggest electronics retailers, Gome, says December sales now rival the traditional spike months for Chinese retailers, May and October, when consumers enjoy weeklong holidays to celebrate International Labor Day and National Day.
Bedecked in trees and bunting, with carols piped through their speakers, Chinese malls are thronged by shoppers at Christmas and look much like ones anywhere else in the world.