Chinese New Year – this year on January 25 – will be a time of joyful celebration, marked by the exchange of special gifts. The most popular and best known gift is the traditional red packet (hóngbao) stuffed with money.
Red, yellow and gold are considered lucky in China, so when choosing a gift these colours assume special importance as they represent wealth and prosperity. Colours to avoid include white, which is symbolic of funerals; and black or blue, both of which are synonymous with death.
Something else to consider is the Chinese superstition about specific numbers. For example, never give an amount of money that includes a four because the pronunciation of four is very close to death. It’s the same for gifts – never give sets of four of anything.
Other even numbers are usually a safe choice, the luckiest being the number 8 – making a number such as 88 the ideal amount to put into a hóngbao.
Passing on good wishes and luck for the coming year is just as important as gift or cash exchanges during Chinese New Year, each with their own traditions and etiquette.
Here are some basic rules to follow in the giving and receiving of gifts:
1. To show respect and appreciation to the giver, receive (and offer) the gift with two hands, a custom used across China when buying something.
2. If giving money, make sure it’s crisp and new. It shows disrespect to give old or torn notes.
3. Always start by presenting a gift to the oldest or most senior family member in a group setting.
4. It’s thought bad manners to immediately open a gift in front of the giver. Thanks will be expressed but the gift put aside to open later in private.
Some objects are never suitable as a Chinese New Year gift and could cause inadvertent offence. These include:
Scissors: A sharp object as a gift signifies you want to end a relationship.
Shoes: The word for shoes sounds exactly like a word for bad luck or evil.
Handkerchiefs: People generally give handkerchiefs at the end of a funeral,.
Clocks: The words “giving a clock” sounds like “attending a funeral ritual”.
Pears: The word for pears sounds the same as the word for leaving or parting.
Cut flowers: These are normally given at funerals especially white flowers and yellow chrysanthemums which signify death.
Umbrellas: Giving someone an umbrella insinuates your relationship with them has fallen apart.
Mirrors: Believed to attract malicious ghosts.