Giant holiday displays are taking over malls throughout Asia
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At the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall in Malaysia is a Christmas tree. It towers 75 feet over holiday shoppers. But its height isn't the most interesting thing about it. Nor is the fact that it's the first of its kind at the mall. Rather, the secret is in its sparkles. It's made of 175,000 glittering Swarovski crystals. These are separated into 3,100 six-and-a-half-foot strands and valued at about $700,000. A nightly snowstorm at the mall's winter garden entrance adds to the lavish holiday feel.
The over-the-top tree took about six months to go from conception to creation. It is just one of hundreds of similar displays at shopping malls across east Asia. There, Christmas fever has taken over with force. Asian shoppers' hunger for all things holiday isn't necessarily about Christmas itself. Indeed, the region's main religions are Hindu, Islam and Buddhism. Rather, Christmas' appeal to mallgoers seems to lie in a local love for shopping malls. And, there is an overwhelming desire to celebrate.
"Shoppers in Asia yearn for a unique experience each time there is a festival celebration," notes Joyce Yap. She is CEO of retail at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. She spoke to Smithsonian.com. Yap says that people tend to plan gatherings and outings at malls. They celebrate festive occasions like Christmas. She says that social media also fuels a growing demand for highly attractive holiday displays. More than half of global social media users are in the Asia Pacific region.
Malls in Asia are increasingly becoming mega-destinations. They include movie theaters and banks. They also have restaurants and bowling alleys. Some even have zoos. In Malaysia alone, shopping centers take up 100 million square feet. They are worth about $33 billion in real estate value. Eight of the world's top 10 malls are in Asia. So it's a logical place to get into the holiday spirit in over the top style.
The displays are spectacular indeed. One mall in Tokyo had a Godzilla-shaped tree. It breathes smoke. A glittery display of trees and landscape lighting is out front. In recent years, Christmas mall displays in Hong Kong have included everything from two-story-tall polar bears to a Central Park-inspired indoor park. The latter included light-up bicycles. And it had an entire Christmas town. It even had an Andy Warhol-themed display of soup cans. Shoppers in Malaysia have enjoyed a Christmas bazaar under a giant holiday dinner table. In addition, there have been huge hot air balloons and a sparkling indoor forest.
What else? How about a candy village? And giant Lego displays. And, even a fairy-themed indoor town. In China, developers are even building a replica of Finland's famed SantaPark.
Why the obsession in Asia with Christmas decorating? It may be partially related to the absorption of some aspects of American culture. Robert Foyle Huwick of The Atlantic writes that about 275,000 Chinese students participate in study programs in the United States each year. They bring American Christmas traditions back with them. Those traditions combat solemn, serious traditional fetes. So celebrating Christmas offers opportunities to party and shop. Expat culture also makes the holiday look pretty appealing. It is especially true in places like Hong Kong. It is home to over 300,000 expatriates. The holiday is celebrated across the region without religious context. Instead, it's an excuse for friends and family to get together. They have a good time.
Given the grandeur of the continent's many Christmas celebrations, there's perhaps never been a better time to head to an east Asian shopping mall. Visitors can receive a dose of good cheer.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is it so easy to export the Christmas tree concept?
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