There's a phrase in Chinese that says, "礼多人不怪" (lǐ duō rén bú guài) - which basically means, "One can never be too polite." But since the 礼 (lǐ) in 礼节 (lǐ jié) is the same character as in 礼物 (lǐ wù) - gift, many Chinese speakers will jokingly misuse this phrase to say, "One can never give too many gifts!"
The 2022 Chinese New Year is just around the corner (also known as Spring Festival), and so we wrote today's blogpost to give you advice on the best practices for giving gifts to friends, family, teachers, colleagues and others during this special festival!
When is the best time during Chinese New Year to give gifts?
As we covered in our blogpost "Western New Year vs. Chinese New Year," Chinese New Year celebrations actually span 15 full days - 16 if you count 除夕 (chú xī)! That being the case, some days are actually better than others for giving gifts to people. In Northern China, people will typically 拜年 (bài nián) - pay New Year calls - on 初一 (chū yī) - the first day of the New Year, and give gifts to their family and close friends. In Southern China, people of some areas will reserve 初一 (chū yī) for worship and caring for the elderly, and then only on 初二 (chū èr) - the second day of the New Year - do they pay their visits and give gifts to each other. So these days are best for giving gifts to family and close friends, and the subsequent days are generally best for giving gifts to everyone else. That said, you should avoid giving gifts on 初五 (chū wǔ) - the fifth day of the New Year, because in China 初五 (chū wǔ) is traditionally known as 送穷日 (sòng qióng rì). A rough translation would be "the day to get rid of poverty," and it's a day that people toss out the trash and surplus accumulated over the first four days of the New Year, which is seen as symbolic of getting rid of misfortune. So if you were to give a person in China a gift on this day, for them it might seem like you are just giving them your unlucky and undesirable junk! Not everyone still thinks this way, but there are still many who do; so the third, fourth and sixth days of Chinese New Year are ideal for paying your visits and giving gifts to those that aren't especially close to you.
What are the best gifts to give during Chinese New Year?
To determine the ideal gift to give during Chinese New Year, you must first consider who the recipient is and their relationship with you. Below we've listed the most common types of people you might want to give a gift to during the Spring Festival and the best gifts you can give to each one.
Giving gifts to the elderly
Typically tobacco, alcohol and tea are the three top choices for gifts to the elderly during Chinese New Year. If you're not certain of the recipient's habits around tobacco or alcohol, tea is likely your best option. Tea is a major part of Chinese culture, and so some great traditional choices would be:
- 乌龙茶 (wū lóng chá) - oolong tea
- 龙井茶 (lóng jǐng chá) - dragon well tea
- 铁观音 (tiě guān yīn) - Tie Guanyin
- 碧螺春 (bì luó chūn) - Biluochun
- 云南白茶 (yún nán bái chá) - Yunnan white tea
- 普洱茶 (pú ěr chá) - Pu'er tea
Any of these would make a fantastic gift to an elderly family member or friend, as would tobacco or alcohol, because they are considered to be relatively valuable. But if you are on a slightly tighter budget, some nice fruit would also be a well accepted gift that shows politeness and respect.
Giving gifts to friends
Whether it be some simple snacks or fruit, a nice wine, a good book or maybe even just a daily necessity; there's no shortage of great gifts that are appropriate for giving to friends on Chinese New Year! That said, there are a few items that aren't typically given to the opposite gender unless you are in a romantic relationship. For example: razors, perfume/cologne, make-up, gloves, footwear, hats, etc. If the gift of choice for your non-romantic friend is a 红包 (hóng bāo) - red envelope, be sure to not include money in the following amounts as they have underlying romantic connotations:
- 521, because the numbers sound similar to 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ) - I love you.
- 520, also because it sounds similar to 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ) - I love you.
- 1314, because it sounds similar to 一生一世 (yì shēng yí shì) - one's whole life.
Giving gifts to teachers
The relationship you have with your teacher is quite special because of how often you see them and how well they know you. Second only to Teacher's Day, Chinese New Year is a great time to give your teacher a gift and express that you appreciate for them. Generally speaking, anything that can be used to express gratitude can be used as an excellent gift to teachers on Chinese New Year; but one of the best options might be a handwritten letter sharing your appreciation and well-wishes for the teacher. For those of you Chinese learners that want to give a gift to your Chinese language teacher, they would certainly be thrilled to receive such a letter from you that you've written in Chinese! And if you paired that with a small item unique to your local area, that's even better!
Giving gifts to children
During Chinese New Year, the first choice for a child's gift is definitely a 红包 (hóng bāo) - red envelope. 红包 (hóng bāo) are always printed with 福 (fú) or other lucky characters and festive designs on front. Typically 红包 (hóng bāo) are filled with money. While it's usually not a lot of money, the amount always includes the numbers 6, 8, and/or 9 as they are seen as lucky numbers in Chinese culture. Nowadays, sending friends electronic 红包 (hóng bāo) is becoming more and more popular. But traditional paper 红包 (hóng bāo) are most often reserved for children and still make the best gift to them during Chinese New Year. Besides 红包 (hóng bāo), it's also common to give children some school supplies like backpacks and stationery according to their grade level. For young children under school age, simple toys and clothing are always a good choice.
Chinese New Year is the most significant holiday in Chinese culture, and is a time that people are very generous in giving gifts to each other. If you have someone in your life that is Chinese or has ties to Chinese culture and you want to give them a special gift, hopefully this article gives you some good ideas on how to choose the perfect gift and give it at the best time!