As a Chinese, I’ve always had trouble keeping up with all the taboos and the customs behind Chinese New Year so I’ve always wondered how foreigners, especially those who does not speak the Chinese language, see Chinese New Year. I especially took pity on the foreigners who has to work in a country where the locals celebrates Chinese New Year because it is customary to give gifts during Chinese New Year. And while gifting itself is a pretty straightforward act, the taboos associated with Chinese New Year gifting can be confusing.
That being said, Chinese New Year practices can be summed up in a list as shown below.
Bring oranges or pineapples when visiting
When visiting a friend during Chinese New Year, it is customary to bring along some oranges to exchange with the host. This is because the bright colour of oranges represents bronze. As such, bringing oranges when visiting signifies bringing luck to the household. Similarly, leaving the house with oranges given by the host signifies being blessed with good luck as well.
Due to the large size of the pineapple, they are rarely exchanged but guest are known to bring pineapple along when visiting their friends or relatives during Chinese New Year. The bright yellow colour represents gold and bringing pineapples signifies bringing good luck to the host. Although pineapples are rarely given to the visitors, hosts are required to give oranges to their guests to thank them for the pineapple and to wish them good luck.
Send gifts in pairs
It is a Chinese belief that good things should come in pairs and bad things should come in ones. That is why fruits placed on the table during Chinese funerals are in odd numbers whereas fruits displayed during Chinese New Years are in even numbers. When bringing gifts, such as oranges, it is recommended to bring in pairs. However, the number four is considered unlucky due to the similarity between the Chinese pronunciations of ‘four’ (pronounced as ‘si’ in Chinese) and the Chinese pronunciations of ‘death’ (also pronounced as ‘si’ in Chinese). Therefore, even though four is an even number, one should never bring gifts in fours.
The number eight, on the other hand, is considered lucky due to the similarity between the Chinese pronunciation of ‘eight’ (pronounced as ‘ba’ in Chinese) and the Chinese pronunciation of ‘becoming wealthy’ (pronounced as ‘fa’ in Chinese). Hence, sending or bringing gifts in eights is recommended during Chinese New Year. Other even numbers such as two, six, ten, etc. are considered neutral.
Gifts in red
The colour red is actually associated with the monster, Nien. According to legend, Nien visits a Chinese village every year during Chinese New Year to feast on the villagers and destroy their homes. Then, a wise man came along and instructed all the villagers to paint their house red or cover it up with red paper. When Nien visited the village and saw a pool of red, it thought, “Even I could not have done this much damage and spill this much blood. What kind of beast could have done this?” Just as the monster was panicking, the wise man set the fire crackers off. Upon hearing the loud crackling sound, Nien jumped and ran away in fear. Since then, red is considered a lucky colour that drives demons away.
Before you start painting your gift with red paint though, it is important to note that the gift need not be red inside out. A good example of a great Chinese New Year gift is the Fiery Fortune (which can be found here: https://simply-hamper.com/cny-hampers/imperial-treasure-series/fiery-fortune).
Looking at the picture shown in the website, you may have noted that the hamper has a range of different colours that blends in well with red. This shows that as long as the gift, as a whole, is red, it is considered a great Chinese New Year gift.
Gifts in gold
Gold is the second most popular colour during Chinese New Year because the colour is associated with the Chinese God of Wealth, or ‘Chai Shen’ as Chinese call him. It is said that every year during Chinese New Year, the god himself would visit the human world. Being the God of Wealth, Chai Shen would bring a treasure chest full of gold bars and give it away to every house he visits. Hence, a gift in gold is considered lucky because it signifies being visited by the God of Wealth.
Similar to the colour red, sending a golden-coloured gifts does not mean that the gift has to be doused in gold. The Chinese New Year hamper, Prestigious Fortune (which can be found here: https://simply-hamper.com/cny-hampers/prestigious-fortune), is a great example of this.
As seen in the picture in the website, the hamper has a chest in gold. However, the wine is red and the fortune cat lucky charm is white with brown. We can clearly see that the gift is, undoubtedly, gold in theme and it has served the purpose of celebrating Chinese New Year without sacrificing the beauty of having a variety of colours.
Exquisite Chinese food, such as abalone, are also great gifts. As you may have noted, most Chinese New Year hampers are filled with exquisite food items. (You can see a list of Chinese New Year hamper here: https://simply-hamper.com/cny-hampers). Similar to the colour gold, food is also associated with Chai Shen. It is said that to encourage Chai Shen to stay and to thank him for his generosity, homeowners would serve the god with the snacks and food they had prepared beforehand. Hence, it is important to have great food in the house during Chinese New Year.
Another explanation for the practice of eating exquisite delicacies during Chinese New Year is the changing of the seasons. Apparently, Chinese New Year comes right after the harvest season which resulted in many farmers having excess money to spend and with the weather being too cold to work, many farmers spent their days eating warm and exquisite food in the house with their family.
Despite the complexity, Chinese New Year gifting tradition can be summarized into a list of five. Firstly, you should always bring oranges or pineapple when visiting a friend during Chinese New Year because these fruits resembles luck. Bringing oranges or pineapples when paying someone a visit signifies bringing luck to the house. Secondly, you should always send gifts in pairs. However, you should avoid sending gifts in fours because it signifies death whereas sending gifts in eights is encouraged because it signifies wealth. Thirdly, you should send gifts with a red theme because red is considered a lucky colour that drives demons away. However, you need not douse the whole gift in red. Fourthly, you can opt for a gift that is generally gold in colour because gold is also a lucky colour that is said to bring wealth. Fifthly, exquisite food makes great Chinese New Year gifts because it is a token of appreciation to be given to the God of Wealth, Chai Shen. Eating exquisite food during Chinese New Year is also a common practice that dates back to the days when farming is common. With that, our list ends and I hope this clears up some confusion you may have had on Chinese New Year gifting.
So, what do you think? Did we miss out any Chinese New Year gifting tradition you and your family practice? Comment below and share your thoughts.
If you’d like to know more about Simply Hamper, click on this link: http://simply-hamper.com/
If you’d like to check out Simply Hamper’s gift baskets, click on this link: https://simply-hamper.com/cny-hampers
By stevenstung from Pixabay