As the world prepares to deck the malls with loads of money, it’s worth reflecting that Santa’s real workshop is not in the North Pole - it’s in Yiwu, China.
Yiwu is home to China Commodity City, the world’s largest small commodity wholesale market, which produces more than 60% of the world’s Christmas trinkets. Baubles, tinsels, glowing trees, flashing lights, snowflakes, stockings, Santa hats, you name it - chances are, it’s made in the sprawling festival of mass production that is China Commodity City.
As it turns out, the rosy-cheeked elves in Santa’s workshop are mainly migrant labourers who work 12-hour shifts and get paid less than £1 an hour. And the only cause of the rose hues on their cheeks is the red powder paint that chokes the air in the sprawling factories.
Yes, life seems a bit grim for the elves that work at China Commodity City - the nature and very existence of which seems a pretty dismal reflection of the world’s rampant consumerism, and appetite for useless, gaudy, tat.
Packaged up in plastic bags, their gleaming red snowflakes hang alongside a wealth of other festive paraphernalia across town in the Yiwu International Trade Market, aka China Commodity City, a 4m sq m wonder-world of plastic tat. It is a pound shop paradise, a sprawling trade show of everything in the world that you don’t need and yet may, at some irrational moment, feel compelled to buy. There are whole streets in the labyrinthine complex devoted to artificial flowers and inflatable toys, then come umbrellas and anoraks, plastic buckets and clocks. It is a heaving multistorey monument to global consumption, as if the contents of all the world’s landfill sites had been dug-up, re-formed and meticulously catalogued back into 62,000 booths.