Traditional Chinese New Year gifts focus on peace, prosperity and good fortune. The 15-day holiday season commences with the new moon closest to the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. On standard calendars, this date changes annually and may occur anywhere from January 21 to February 21.
Guests at Chinese New Year feasts often honor the hosts and their children with small gifts intended to communicate best wishes for a healthy, happy year to come. These presents usually are inexpensive, such as flowers, foods to add to holiday feasts or tiny, red envelopes filled with small amounts of money.
Depending on the practices of local communities and individual families, the celebration of Chinese New Year may last a full 15 days. That can mean many banquets and visits to homes of friends and family. It also can mean lots of gift giving. It is customary for a gift recipient to reciprocate with a gift of greater value. While this may seem like a game of one-upmanship to outsiders, it is considered good manners among Chinese. So, to be truly considerate, it is necessary to limit the cost of gifts. Here are some other things to consider when giving gifts for the Chinese New Year.
Gift givers need to consider positive symbolism when choosing presents. The most traditional gift is lai see, which are red envelopes filled with shiny coins or crisp, new dollar bills, both of which are thought of as "lucky money." The envelope color is important, because red is also considered a symbol of good luck. According to the Chinese New Year 2012 website, it is usual to give lai see to children, close relatives and unmarried adults. It is also common to place lai see in the candy dish at a host's house.
Bags of oranges and tangerines are also thoughtful choices. Tangerines with stems still intact are good gifts for young couples, because the stems symbolize a growing family. Other symbols of growth include flowers, particularly potted plants. Bright reds, pinks, oranges and yellows are appropriate choices. The ProFlowers website notes that sunflowers are especially good for invoking prosperity. Other traditional Chinese New Year gifts include candied fruit, cookies and Chinese moon cakes, which are composed of sweet bean paste surrounded by flaky pastry.
Cultural taboos also affect gift giving. For example, even though blossoms signify rebirth, many Chinese traditionalists may see them as symbolic of death if they are white or almost black. In general, it is wise to avoid giving any gifts that are white or black. Nevertheless, not all branches of Chinese culture may see white flowers as taboo. The Living in Indonesia website says that white jonquils or narcissus blossoms are favorite New Year gifts among the Chinese in Indonesia.
Other taboo gifts include pears, clocks, sharp objects and anything that comes in a set of four. The Chinese Lessons website says the word pear sounds the same as the word for separation in Chinese and that the gift of a clock symbolizes being escorted to the graveyard. Sharp items, such as scissors, are negative since they symbolize cutting ties. Finally, the number four should be avoided, because it sounds like the word for death in Chinese.