Marrying into a Chinese family means learning about culture and traditions that mean a lot to your spouse’s family. Chinese New Year is a highlight of the year often celebrated in a grand way among Chinese communities. Be sensitive to gift-giving rules to avoid getting on the wrong side of your extended family even with the best intentions.
Rules of CNY Gift-Giving
- Red, yellow, and gold symbolizes wealth and prosperity. You’d do well to purchase gifts of these colors.
- Wearing or giving a green hat suggests the host’s wife has an extramarital affair.
- White and black is exclusive to funerals so don’t give a gift of these colors or wrapped in such palettes.
- A plain white envelope is a big no-no as it is given during funerals.
- Place a cash gift in a traditional red envelope known as a Hóngbāo. Use only crisp money. Old and torn cash is considered a sign of disrespect
- Odd-numbered cash gifts are considered a sign of anger and death.
- Go for any even-numbered amount but NEVER four which is linked to death. 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture.
- Likewise, your gifts should come in pairs. Avoid odd-numbered items.
- Be discreet when giving gifts. Don’t give, receive, or open CNY gifts in public. Use both hands when giving/receiving.
- Remove the price tag before wrapping the gifts.
- Check expiry dates of edible gifts.
Now that you know the do’s and don’ts of CNY gift-giving, check out these gift ideas for every member of your Chinese family:
- Something to Keep them Warm
In Chinese families, it is imperative that you start giving gifts from the eldest in the family ending with the youngest. The elders of the family will appreciate gifts that consider their health and comfort. Warm hats, cashmere scarves, a new set of clothes, and gloves are suitable for CNY as it occurs during the winter season. You’ll never go wrong with red, yellow, and gold-colored clothing as gifts for your in-laws.
- Something to Relax in
An acupressure mat and pillow set, a foot spa machine, and a massage chair if you’re feeling more gracious are perfect gifts for elders in the family. You can also add bath salts, herbal balms, and essential oils set. Don’t forget comfy slippers and a face mask too.
- Some Cash
Most Chinese Kids wait for a Hóngbāo from their family members. Remember the rule of even numbers and the color of the envelope. If you’re wondering, “how much to put in a Hóngbāo?” here is a guideline: for the younger generation with no income, give 20 to 200 dollars and for your in-laws 1000 to 5000 dollars. Remember never to give 40, 400 or 4000 as these values are associated with death.
- Something High-Grade
If you fancy tea, you probably choose average varieties on a normal day, but when it comes to CNY gift-giving, restrain yourself from buying cheap tea. Deemed as the national drink of China, your in-laws can tell high-grade variety from cheap ones. A high-end tea shop or the local tea house should have a wide selection of fine tea for you to choose from. Go for limited edition teas like Treasure of the East, or better yet buy a fine tea set made of red porcelain for your in-laws.
Imported wine is also a crowd pleaser during CNY. You can opt for Chinese New Year hamper delivery that includes a selection of fine wine. Be prepared to toast with “Ganbei,” which is synonymous to “cheers.” You can also opt for fine Chinese liquor or baiju. Moutai and Wuliangye are sure to please your in-laws.
- Something Good for their Health
The winter season is a suitable time to increase your intake of vitamins, health tonics, and herbal medicine which are also good choices for seniors and in-laws over 50 years. You can either choose from a variety of traditional herbal remedies like ginseng. If your Chinese family is open to modern medicine, you will find an inclination to imported brands.
It is best to ask your Chinese family about their health supplement choices. If the recipient speaks only Chinese, make sure to inform them about the correct dosage or purchase medicine with dosage instructions in Chinese.
- Something Sweet
In Chinese culture, giving sweets symbolize that you are wishing them safety and a sweet new year. You can certainly give imported cookies and chocolates to kids and the adults as well. Sweet sticky rice is also a crowd pleaser as it also signifies family togetherness.
- Something to Snack On
CNY is a time when all the family members come together in a sort of reunion. There will be lots of time for chatting with family so snacks are a welcome treat. Go for an assortment of nuts to please your in-laws.
Nuts have symbolisms in China too. Peanuts are linked to prosperity, good fortune, wealth, stability, health, and long life. Cashew nuts, in particular symbolize money and gold. Gingko nuts symbolize silver and wealth. Lotus nuts wish the family many male offspring and an always-full wallet. Walnuts wish happiness of the family.
- Something for a New Beginning
Fruits are beloved by Chinese families all year round. During CNY, fresh fruits symbolize new beginnings and have symbolisms too. Remember the rule of evens when giving a fruit basket as a gift. Apples symbolize peace, lychees are for close family ties, and melons are for family unity. A pair of peaches are for abundance for generations to come and mandarin oranges are for wealth. Pineapples also symbolize luck and wealth.
Pomelos are in season during CNY and symbolize good health, abundance, and family unity. Pomegranates are for wishing the family many offspring and longans wish many good sons for the family.
- Something for the Little Ones
Aside from the traditional Hóngbāo, kids will also love toys, video games, stuffed animals, school supplies, stationary, and sweets. If there are a lot of kids in the family, then give all of them a few chocolates or candies and an even-numbered cash gift.
- Some Colorful Blooms
A Chinese New Year flower arrangement in a gold vase or a handmade vase is one of the most beloved gifts for CNY. Like many CNY gifts, flowers also have symbolisms for the Chinese. Expensive orchids signify luxury and refinement. For luck, gift a bamboo plant decorated with lucky ornaments and tied with red ribbons. If you live far from your in-laws, a florist online has a lot of CNY gift selections including fruits, hampers, and express flower delivery straight to your in-laws’ home.
Gifts that promote health and well-being are generally well-accepted gifts during CNY. Food and drinks can also add merriment to the occasion and are most welcome. Money is a tricky gift to give but is welcomed by all ages. Finally, avoid giving gifts that are way too personal such as necklaces and ties. If you want, handcrafted teapots and vases make excellent gifts for your Chinese in-laws.