Chinese Gifting Traditions
Gift giving is a big part of Chinese culture, and Chinese traditions create many occasions for exchanging gifts. Much like other aspects of Chinese culture, there are important customs and etiquette involved with both giving and receiving.
When it comes to Gift Giving Chinese traditions span the gamut from major life events to common, daily occurrences.
Chinese families do not generally celebrate with showers prior to the birth of a child; it is considered bad luck. Instead of showers, it is customary to have an "introduction to the world" party about a month after a baby is born. At the party the child is presented with tokens of good luck, such as gifts of money or gold trinkets and jewelry, all representing the good fortune that is hoped for throughout their lives.
Weddings are a joyful celebration representing the union of two families. It is customary to give gifts of money to help the new couple start their family. Friends and family often try to pick "lucky denominations." Having many zeros, for instance, is good as the circular figure of zero represents the eternal union of the couple. Denominations with the number four are avoided, since the Chinese word for four sounds like the Chinese word for death. In addition to money, the colors of gold and red play a major role in wedding gifts, both representing good luck and fortune.
Depending on the family, birthdays may be celebrated in a variety of ways. Today, most Chinese celebrate their birthday based on the Western calendar; however, many from older generations still mark their birthdays based on the Chinese calendar, which means the actual day changes from year to year. In traditional China, everyone celebrated their birthday on Chinese New Year, thus everyone grew a year older at the same time.
In terms of birthday gifts, it is important to avoid things that mark the passage of time, such as watches or time pieces. While all birthdays are important, the birthdays that correspond with the same year of the zodiac (every twelve years) are especially important. It is believed that zodiac birth anniversaries are precarious times as luck will typically be extremely good or extremely bad. As a result, more lavish birthday gifts are bestowed in an attempt to influence good luck in the coming year.
The biggest birthday, however, is the sixtieth birthday. On a person's sixtieth birthday the zodiac animal and the element symbol (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth) are exactly the same as the year of birth. It is common to give symbols of longevity and strength, such as miniature old trees.
It is proper etiquette to bring gifts for the host when visiting others. Often "luxury" foods that are supplementary to a meal are brought, such as cakes, wines, or fruit. Small personal items are also acceptable, such as pictures, artwork or trinkets. Potted plants, as opposed to cut flowers, are also welcomed as they represent growth and life.
Children and Elders
It is very common to give children "hung bao," which are red envelops with lucky money. Since children represent the future, this represents the building of a prosperous future and a sign of good tidings to come. It is also very common for children to give gifts to grandparents. This is a show of respect and a tribute to one's ancestors and heritage.
When it comes to Gift Receiving Chinese traditions are also rich with etiquette.
When receiving a gift, it is common to open the gift immediately. Once opened, it is customary to give it many compliments and to spend time discussing the merits of the item. The gift is often put in a place of honor for all the guests to admire.
It is considered polite and often expected to provide thank you notes, phone calls, or other gestures of appreciation for gifts. Also, reciprocity is common as Chinese people often want to express their appreciation by reciprocating in some way.