Chinese New Year gifts: best good luck presents - and things you should never give in the Lunar New Year

Some items have positive meanings in Chinese culture, while others are considered offensive - here’s a guide to the difference

Best Chinese New Year 2023 presents - and things you should never give in the Lunar New Year.
Best Chinese New Year 2023 presents - and things you should never give in the Lunar New Year.
Best Chinese New Year 2023 presents - and things you should never give in the Lunar New Year.

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The Chinese New Year is fast approaching and, if you are planning to celebrate with friends or family, you may want to give gifts to mark the occasion. Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year as it is also known, is the biggest festival of the year for Chinese people and many other people with other Asian heritage. It is usually full of good food, fireworks and amazing processions. Gifts are swapped to express respect and affection, but there are some presents that should - and should not - be given.

In Chinese culture, some items have positive meanings attached to them, while others have negative connotations - the latter will cause great offense if proffered. It’s very important to know the difference before you hit the shops.

When is Chinese New Year 2023?

Chinese New Year 2023 is almost here. It usually falls three to four weeks after the solar new year, (1 January), because the lunar year works in a slightly different way to the Gregorian calendar. The current lunar year started on Monday 31 January 2022 and will finish on Saturday 21 January 2023. The next lunar year will begin on Sunday 22 January 2023, and run until Friday 9 February 2024.

While solar calendars are in popular use across much of the world, many people in China and South East Asia follow the more traditional lunar calendar. As you’d expect, solar calendars are based on the earth’s passage around the sun, while lunar ones base their timings off the different phases of the moon. It means months tend to be either 29 or 30 days in length, and years are between 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar calendar.

What gifts shouldn’t you give for Chinese New Year?

There are a variety of presents you definitely shouldn’t give to someone for Chinese New Year. To avoid accidentally offending a gift recipient, these are the items you should stay away from and why.

  • Necklaces, ties and belts: If you’re giving a gift to a friend you shouldn’t give them any of these items as they are viewed as intimate items which should be given by people who are in a romantic relationship with each other.
  • Wallet or purse: Giving a wallet or a purse is thought to be a symbol of giving away all your money and suggests that you might lose all your finances and luck. Spouses or family members can, however, give a wallet as a purse or a gift as they already share finances with each other.
  • Handkerchiefs: People generally give handkerchiefs at the end of a funeral and, as such, they are a symbol of saying goodbye forever. Giving someone a gift like this at any other time insinuates that you are saying goodbye to them forever, ending your friendship and cutting all ties with them.
  • Dolls: Some people consider cloth dolls as evil items which attract evil spirits.
  • Umbrella: Giving somebody an umbrella may be seen as a hint that you feel your relationship with them has fallen apart.
  • Hats: Hats are considered unlucky. In China, when an elderly person dies, their children wear a mourning hat. So, a hat is taboo to give as a gift for Chinese New Year. A green hat would cause particular distress. In China, the saying ‘to wear a green hat’ relates to the infidelity of someone’s wife or girlfriend.
  • Black or white objects: Black and white are traditional colours for funerals in China, so you should avoid presents that are largely black or largely white, or wrapping paper, cards or envelopes in these colours. In contrast, however, red is believed to be a festive and fortunate colour, so red is a great choice for envelopes or gifts.
  • Sharp objects: Giving anything sharp, such as a knife or scissors, is bad luck, as sharp objects are thought to symbolise the severing of a relationship.
  • Pears: Giving fruit is a good gift, but you should avoid pears. This is because the Chinese word for pears sounds the same as the word for leaving or parting.
  • Candles: Candles are usually used alongside offerings for the dead in China. Therefore, they should not be given as gifts.
  • Cut flowers: Cut flowers are generally given as presents for funerals, so they should not be given as presents for any other time. This is especially the case for yellow chrysanthemums and any white flowers, which represent death.
  • Mirrors: Mirrors are believed to attract malicious ghosts. They are also easily broken and breaking things is an all-round bad omen.
  • Shoes: Shoes are a bad idea for a present for Chinese New Year because the Chinese word for shoes sounds exactly like a word for bad luck or evil. In addition, shoes are something that you step on, and are so are seen as derogatory gifts.
  • Anything with the number four: In Chinese, the number four sounds similar to the word for death. Therefore, anything displaying the number 4 is considered extremely unlucky. You should not give gifts in sets or multiples of four, or any other number with the digit four in such as 14 or 44.
  • Clocks or watches: In Chinese, the saying ‘giving a clock’ sounds exactly like the Chinese words for ‘attending a funeral ritual’ and as a result it is bad luck to give a clock or watch to someone as a present. Clocks and watches also symbolise the notion of running out of time, which would be particularly offensive to older people.

What gifts should you give for Chinese New Year?

There are a range of presents which would be very well received this Chinese New Year.

  • Food: People in China love to give food as gifts, so an ideal present would be a lovely food hamper. Good items to include in the hamper could be non-perishable items such as crackers, crisps, chocolate, biscuits and dried fruit - but remember to stay away from pears of course.
  • Tea: A selection of tea, particularly loose leaf tea presented in a nice box, would be a good present.
  • Fruit basket: Fruit baskets are popular gifts in Chinese culture. Giving a box of oranges or a box of apples is particularly recommended because apples and oranges respectively symbolise safety and fortune.
  • Alcohol: Booze is very well received at Chinese New Year - if the recipient is a drinker.
  • Tech gadgets: If you’ve got a bigger budget to spend then a tech gift is always much appreciated.
  • Something red: As previously discussed, red is a lucky colour in Chinese culture so any item that you can find is red would be greatly received. 
  • Books: Books are a wonderful present because they can be tailored to the recipient’s interests and can also help to educate.
  • Animal themed gifts: The Chinese zodiac gives each year an animal sign, and 2023 is the year of the rabbit. So, giving a gift with a rabbit theme is a way to wish good fortune and show your knowledge of Chinese culture.

If you really want to treat your host this Chinese New Year this luxurious food hamper from upmarket department store Fortnum and Mason will wow them.

The gift box includes lots of branded signature products including Marc de Champagne Truffles, Cherrilossus Biscuits, Afternoon Blend Loose Leaf Tea and a bottle of Saint-Émilion - a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Whittard is a top brand when it comes to hot drinks. If you’re not sure of your host’s favourite tea flavour, or you want to help them try something new, then a selection box like this is a good way to go.

It contains some of Whittard’s most famous teas which come from all around the world. They can enjoy a tea journey around earth, from the delights of a malty Tippy Assam, to the delicate flavour of Jasmine, all the way to a fruity Mango and Bergamot. With nine teas to choose from, each tea box contains 20 traditional teabags.

This fresh fruit hamper contains:

  • 4 x Bananas
  • 1 x Pineapple
  • 1 x Kiwi
  • 1 x Mango
  • 1 x Grapes (400g)
  • 5 x Soft Citrus
  • 1 x Orange
  • 1 x Conference Pear
  • 2 x Pink Lady Apples
  • 1 x 12 Pk Dates
  • 1 x Lemon
  • 2 x Nectarine

And it’s all presented in a lovely box, decorated with a bow, which you will be proud to present to your host.

Baijiu, a clear spirit distilled from sorghum, wheat, rice or corn, is the national drink of China and a popular choice during new year’s celebrations. This also makes it a great choice as a gift if you don’t know what your host’s favourite drink is.

It’s traditionally consumed neat, but can also be used as a base for cocktails. Ming River Sichuan Baijiu is produced at Luzhou Laojiao, the oldest operating distillery in China.

JBL is a big brand when it comes to audio tech. Simply connect your smartphone or tablet to the speaker using Bluetooth and then enjoy up to five hours of music per charge.

The GO3 is waterproof too - perfect for listening to tunes in the bath or shower. Available in various colours, including black, white, pink and blue. Prices start at £29.99.

This is a gorgeous trinket box in the shape of a large decorated egg - and it has a very similar style to the famous Russian Faberge egg.

It’s decorated in red and gold and enhanced with sparkling crystal decoration. It can hold a small amount of jewellery via the hinged section that is held securely closed by magnets - so the recipient can be sure their personal items will be safe.

A lovely ornament, it comes in red and gold - colours of good fortune in China too. .

This Sunday Times Bestseller is a riveting read for a bibliophile.

She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. According to a review, “This audacious, brilliant debut is a vivid, original reimagining . . . Peopled by flawed, fearless characters and with a dramatically violent storyline, this is immersive storytelling at its finest.”

The Disney Store has created this special edition mug just for Chinese New Year 2023, featuring everyone’s favourite rabbit - Thumper from Bambi. The mug features stylised character artwork, a contrasting handle and interior, all important red colour, and traditional fireworks and flower detail. It’s the ideal mug to enjoy a lovely cup of tea in.