Some Gifts Are Bad Luck & Offensive… Here Are Some Safe Gift Ideas For Your Chinese Friends For CNY
Chinese New Year is literally days away and for some of you out there who are procrastinators, I’m sure you’re scrambling to compile a hamper of gifts to give to your friends, s/o or in-laws who are celebrating.
Like every other race in Malaysia, some Chinese are very superstitious. These superstitions are usually tied to the common ones we non-chinese folk know about such as the auspicious colour red and the number 8, which in Mandarin is a homonym for the word prosperity.
However, as a Malay, there are plenty of superstitions in gift-giving that I did not know about until I asked around.
So, for your education as well as to help in curating that hamper of yours, here are some of the Do’s and Don’ts of CNY gift-giving… Who knows? Maybe this list will finally help you impress your Chinese s/o’s parents? If so, you’re welcome!
Usually tied to funerals, handkerchiefs are not something you should gift to the people you love on CNY. I mean, there’s no bigger mood-killer during a celebration than a reminder of impending death!
Most of the time, giving someone a handkerchief signifies that you’re preparing them for mourning. At funerals, you will often receive a red envelope with a coin inside (for a safe journey home), sweet candy (to eat before you leave) and a handkerchief (to wipe your tears during the wake).
So, unless you know something they don’t, handkerchiefs should be avoided.
It doesn’t matter if you get them a Gucci wallet. If it’s empty, you can take it back!
According to Chinese superstitions, giving someone an empty wallet signifies a lack of fortune or prosperity. It’s kind of like giving someone an empty plate and asking them to dig in.
If you want to gift someone a wallet, make sure to place a couple of bills in there and if you want extra points, make sure it corresponds with the number 8.
I don’t know why you would ever gift someone a sharp object because that’s just hazardous but in case you were planning to, don’t. Sharp objects mean that you’re cutting ties with the person you’re gifting to – yeah, I know. Super literal.
Other than that, it can also mean death. I can see it. You’re opening up your cute hamper and you accidentally jab yourself with the pointy end and bleed to death… It would be very Final Destination-esque.
The more I learn, the more afraid I am of these superstitions! While clocks are great gifts for interior design since a funky one can spice up a minimalistic room, it’s not the best gift for CNY or any other special occasions (especially birthdays!). Unless you want to tell your friend that “their time is coming”, then go ahead with your abnormal friendship dynamic!
In Chinese superstition, clocks (and to a lesser extent, watches. Sorry nephews, no Ben 10 watches for you) are used to signify impending doom or death. It’s like the saying, “The clock is ticking” or “Your time is coming” which are both very menacing phrases that aren’t suitable for an airy CNY gathering.
To make matters worse, the word gift and clock together in Mandarin is “song zhong”, which is similar to the word for a funeral procession, where they send away the dead.
With all that said, instead of a clock, maybe get them a cute cat drawing for that boring wall of theirs?
Red shoes (suggested by my editor)
Okay, this one sounds far-fetched because my editor has a habit of trolling me but just to humour him, I’ll take his word for it. According to JUICE’s trusted editorial director, gifting someone red shoes means that you’re going to steal that person’s wife…
Hmm, he’s lying to me, isn’t he? [Ed’s Note: Yes, again].
According to other people who aren’t my editor, the word for ‘shoes’ (鞋 xié /syeah) sounds like the word for ‘bad luck’ or ‘evil’ (邪 xié). Shoes are also considered inappropriate as you step on them. Obviously, this was before the age of designer streetwear.
Oh well, if my editor’s version of the superstition is true, then I hope my future husband gets a red shoe from Levi Ackerman.
Red-coloured anything (just not things we mentioned above lah)
Enough with the impending doom and thinly-veiled threats of death, let’s get back to the happy gifts!
Starting off this list is anything red! Believed to scare away evil spirits, red is the go-to colour for CNY celebrations. Not only does it signify prosperity and good fortune but it’s just an overall cheery colour to wear to a party.
Think about it! Wearing any other colour is just a typical-Tuesday but when you wear red, it’s a statement.
From what I’ve read, there’s also a legend behind the colour.
It was said that a beast by the name of Nian, would terrorise villagers during the New Year, eating the crops, livestock and even the children. After figuring out its tactics, the villagers found out that Nian was deathly afraid of three things: fire, noise and (you guessed it) the colour red. They eventually defeated the beast and now, the legend lives on until today!
A super yummy seafood in general, abalone is actually a great gift for CNY, not just for it’s taste but because of its auspiciousness. Apparently, abalone is an indication of wealth and status and by giving someone the seafood, you’re wishing that upon them.
The word for abalone alone is “bao yu” in Mandarin which is similar sounding to the phrase “to carry surplus”.
My mouth is already watering thinking about some nicely cooked abalone so I’d give this a nod of approval as well!
Things you can share
There’s one thing that permeates all cultures which is the “Don’t lah so kedekut!” mentality.
For the Chinese, it’s no different. Gifting things is better when you gift them items that can be shared within a family. For example, it wouldn’t be wrong per se to gift your friend or loved one a single Mandarin orange but it would just look bad. Like, just one? Do I mean that little to you?
I know, very dramatic but we’re all thinking it. So, whenever you’re thinking of gifting someone something, especially food, make sure to give it in abundance!
Must I even explain this? How else are they going to drown out the constant slew of “Ah girl, when are you getting married?”, or “Oh, you got piercings ah boy? Your mother know about this?”, or “You are such a leng lui, how come got no boyfriend?”… the list goes on and on…
Be a dear, get them some beer. Less talking, more “Yam Seng”!
And that concludes my guideline to gift-giving for your Chinese loved ones, brought to you by a Malay noob.
If any of the things I’ve said today were inaccurate, blame my Chinese friends who probably thought it would be funny to trick me. My hands are clean!
JUICE wishes you a prosperous Chinese New Year!