Toys of Xmas past

Toys of Xmas past

A Hong Kong collector has set out to recapture the spirit of bygone holidays


Tsang Wai-man's handmade old Santa dolls  remind people of earlier Christmases.
Tsang Wai-man's handmade old Santa dolls remind people of earlier Christmases.
Photo: May Tse
Every Christmas, the city's streets and shopping malls are festooned with seasonal decorations. So, too, are offices and homes. Generally new fads trump old designs, but not in Man Tsang Wai-man's home.

The 32-year-old graphic designer loves ferreting around antique shops for old Christmas toys and decorations. "I guess my interest in Christmas ornaments comes from my mother, who puts a lot of effort into decorating the house at Christmas," he said. "I have been collecting them since I was six or seven years old."

Tsang's collection of Christmas ornaments is like a museum which showcases Hong Kong life from colonial days to the current era of booming manufacturing. A great many of his collector's items will be on display at China Hong Kong City, Tsim Sha Tsui, until December 13.

Among his most prized items, Tsang especially cherishes ceramic Christmas lights from the 1920s. "I discovered these light bulbs in an old electrical appliance store," he said. "They were lying in a basket like trash."

The shop owner, he added, thought they were worthless and gave them to Tsang for free. After taking a closer look, the collector discovered their historical worth. The light bulbs could once have helped bring holiday cheer to the homes of rich locals or colonial officials, he noted.

Although they're simply made, Tsang prizes them for their ability to evoke past Christmases.

Historical value is what Tsang seeks in old Christmas ornaments. "A lot of items in my collection, like Santa Claus dolls made by local factories in the 60s, 70s and 80s, aren't high quality," he said.

"Back then the local manufacturing industry was just beginning to take off," he explained. "The colouring was done by hand so every doll looks a little different. Their faces and outfits look kind of silly and the plastic is quite fragile. But that's what I like about them - they're imperfect but have their own unique charm."

Tsang hopes his exhibition will teach children about the past while bringing back fond memories to their parents.

"The old ornaments can help parents and children bond in a fun way," he said. "Parents may be happy to see the toys of their youth while their children can get a glimpse of their parents' childhood."

Although Christmas remains a popular festival in Hong Kong, Tsang sees today's festival as too commercial. Christmas is not what it used to be, he laments.

"I do not object to shopping, but society is getting too materialistic and commercialised," he noted. "Children cry about not having a fancy Christmas gift. Let's just all enjoy a peaceful and loving Christmas with family and friends, like it's supposed to be."



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