This year, Santa's wearing blue

Forget Lapland. In Gwent 120 outsize elves toil to keep the country, and the world, in unorthodox festive decor.

While Britain is preoccupied by summer drought, Santa's helpers are working flat-out to meet deadlines for the Christmas market. Nowhere is elfin energy more concentrated than in Gwent, where Festive Productions, the UK market leader in the Christmas decorations business, has an almost doubled workforce of nearly 120 on round-the-clock shifts.

From June to October, pressure is intense to fulfil orders for trees, lights, garlands and door and table decorations, contributing to a retail market estimated at pounds 145m in Britain alone. The British family spends an average of between pounds 60 and pounds 100 on Christmas decorations and gift wrap, even post-recession, every season.

From its Newport factory, Festive Productions also exports to New Caledonia, the Middle East and west Africa. Last year, the firm dispatched pounds 100,000- worth of aerosol snow to Iceland and herds of 18in plastic "topiary" reindeer to Scandinavia.

Exports account for 15 per cent of the company's pounds 8m turnover from 2,000 separate product lines. Obversely, glass decorations from eastern Europe and more than a million hand-picked, graded and fumigated five-inch fir cones from China - alone costing pounds 50,000 - are imported for a range of door wreaths, wall and table decorations. Tree lights and others are imported mainly from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The factory floor resembles a May festival as women seemingly perform variations on a Maypole dance, straining at arm's length from twirling, glinting garlands. They are twisting mixed-colour "spiral" designs, a new line for Sainsbury's Homebase stores. Festive Productions supplies 95 per cent of major retailers at any one time, many of which specify their own lines.

All Christmas garlands are born in tubs the size of steel drums resembling fairground candy-floss machines into which wide PVC ribbons are fed through cutters, then spun at high speed. Five minutes produces 20 metres of garland. Traditional reds, silvers and golds outsell all else, but co-ordinated themed room schemes such as the Balmoral range - tartan, tartan and more tartan - are increasingly popular, not just here but in the Middle East. Instead of a red-clad Santa, the Czarina range - popular in eastern Europe - features an exotic bearded patriarchal figure transmuted by a kind of Russian Orthodox conversion, resplendent in midnight blue satin.

Nigerians like decorations on a grand scale and opt for shopping mall- sized garlands with maximum glitter to burnish in the sun. They would no doubt warm to Festive Productions' new line in musical automated figures, such as Santas on skis. They're 24in high, but the retail price of pounds 99.99 may leave Nigerian revellers cold at a time when hard currency is still restricted.

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