Tales of Holiday Generosity Around the World

Christmas giving in China begins in a hotel

GUO SHENGHUA celebrates Chinese New Year, not Christmas, and her four-year-old daughter hasn't been told about Shengdan Laoren, otherwise known as Santa Claus.

But every year, Mrs. Guo and dozens of other employees at Beijing's Palace Hotel donate toys and play Santa Claus to disabled children at a special Christmas party that reflects the beginnings of holiday philanthropy in China."

For me, Christmas is just like the Chinese New Year," says Guo, an assistant restaurant manager who paints children's faces in bright colors during the party. "It makes me happy to make the children happy."

The influx of foreign companies is spreading the concept of corporate charity and cheer in China.

Still in its infancy, Christmas philanthropy is as yet practiced by only a handful of major hotels, and observance of the Western holiday remains somewhat sensitive among more orthodox Communist officials.

But with China a major producer of toys and Christmas mementos and department stores full of bright holiday displays and gifts, Western Christmas traditions, including helping the needy, are slowly taking hold.

Among Beijing's hoteliers, the luxurious Palace, has been in the forefront of Christmas philanthropy. Its holiday party for disabled children, now in its third year and featuring a blind children's chorus, a deaf child who dances, harmonica players, and a Chinese Santa distributing toys, is part of a corporate program of giving to hospitals, schools for the poor, and disaster victims.

"This has been so well-received by the children ... , the public, and the media that we felt we had to keep doing it," says public relations manager Christina Koh.

Still, celebrating Christmas remains touchy in Communist China. The Palace, which in the past teamed up with Chinese sponsors, encountered reticence this year toward backing such a high-profile celebration. Likewise, foreign companies remain skittish of official disapproval although they have budgets for holiday charity.

But Ms. Koh thinks that's changing. Next year, the Palace hopes to seek other foreign corporate contributions for the party and erect a corporate Christmas tree displaying company logos.

"These big companies may still have a wait-and-see attitude," she says. "But I'm sure in a few years this will take off."

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