Every year we are obligated to thank somebody for our merry Christmas. This year it is the People's Republic of China. Without the Chinese supplying the toys, the wrapping paper, the ties, the sweaters and the artificial snow, there would be no Noel. The Christmas industry in China is so large that children are now sending e-mails to Santa Claus in Shanghai.

While most Chinese have no idea why the West celebrates Christmas, they have a vested interest in the holiday.

At the beginning of the year, they all get together to discuss what items they should make. If music boxes with ballerinas on top didn't sell last year, the person who designed them is sent to a reeducation camp in Mongolia. The reason he is being treated so harshly is that he assured the minister of toy marketing that Macy's would order 10,000 boxes--twice as many as the number of Nintendo 64s.

Ho Chu, in charge of all Barbie doll knockoffs in China, said the real Barbie doll people were complaining that Ho Chu's people were adding extra skirts and blouses for Barbie to wear.

When asked what he intended to do about the complaint, Ho Chu said, "We'll keep making them until we get Taiwan back."

Do Dao told the group that China had surpassed last year's production. "I predict that every man, woman and child will have a stuffed panda and a harmonica this year at half the price they would have had to pay if the items had been made in Germany."

What is interesting is that Chinese workers have no idea what they are making. When constructing toddler tricycles, they are told that they are for the Chinese soldiers on the Indian border. The same goes for Elvis Presley wind-up dolls. The officials in Beijing have a deathly fear of their workers discovering that what they are making is something called toys because the workers will want them for their own children.

Several have asked their superiors what the words "Merry Christmas" mean, and they were told it translates to "Do not smoke on the elevator."

The reason the Chinese inherited Christmas is that Americans could not afford to manufacture gifts anymore. But the demand for presents, particularly among American children, is greater than ever.

Canton cornered the mistletoe market last year and is now considering flooding the United States with rum-soaked fruitcake.

Wong Su said, "We will soon be in the position that instead of threatening America with missiles, we threaten them with not sending any Christmas toys. Without toys for their children, Americans will have no choice but to blink."

(C) 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate