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Luxury Gift Giving Etiquette for the Lunar New Year

Luxury Gift Giving Etiquette for the Chinese Lunar New Year

One quarter of the world’s population is preparing to celebrate the Lunar New Year. And that means that it’s time for buying luxury gifts! Whether you’re shopping for someone at the office, a client, or a friend, there are a few things you should know. Our correspondent Julie Chang Murphy has a simple set of guidelines to share to ensure that your gifts are on-point. Our guide to gift giving etiquette rules for Chinese Lunar New Year shares the “rules,” traditions, bad-luck gifts and symbolism you need to know to ensure that your presents generate joy and delight in each of your recipients.

gift giving etiquette rules for the lunar new year 

First things first. Lunar (often called Chinese) New Year is not just celebrated in China. People in Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia – as well as in Asian communities throughout the world – celebrate Lunar New Year, too.

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Odds are that you know someone who does – whether its someone from work, a client, a family friend or even your favorite barista. If you’re thinking of surprising them with a Lunar New Year gift – which you should totally shouldthere are some things to know before you hit the “complete purchase” button.

Luxury Gift Giving Etiquette for the Chinese Lunar New Year

There are a few cultural norms, traditions and “rules” you should be aware of. Here are some of the key gift giving etiquette rules for Lunar New Year.

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the red envelope

The “ur” gift for the Lunar New Year in Chinese culture is the traditional red envelope filled with cash. For good reason, they’re always popular and you really can’t go wrong with that. Just be sure to give crisp new bills, as old and worn currency notes are considered bad form.

the luxury limited-edition capsule collections

However, many business relationships – and even personal relationships – require something other than a red envelope as a gift. Consider many of the traditional luxury categories: gourmet food, fine wine and spirits, cigars, designer fashion and the like.

Most of the global luxury brands have limited-edition capsule collections specifically for the Lunar New Year each year. Their color palette will almost always feature some combination of red, yellow and gold as these colors symbolize wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture.

Sounds simple, right? Well . . . there are a few other factors to keep in mind if you really want to nail this.

lucky numbers

Numbers carry symbolic meaning in the giving of gifts for Lunar New Year. Avoiding anything with the number “4” is a good idea, as that would traditionally be considered a bad-luck gift. The number “8,” on the other hand, is considered to be the luckiest number. And in general, even numbers are considered to be more benign than odd numbers.

“Bad-luck gifts” for Chinese New Year come in a few different varieties. Here are a couple to keep in mind while you’re gift shopping.

homonyms are important in Chinese culture

These words all have an inauspicious homonym, so avoid these items as gifts if your recipient is likely to key off of these traditions:

  • Clocks and watches: sounds like “attending a funeral”
  • Shoes: sounds like the word for “evil”
  • Umbrellas and fans: sounds like “separate”
  • Pears: sounds like another word for “separate”
  • Anything in denominations of 4: sounds like “death”
Gift giving etiquette rules for Chinese New Year

Gift giving etiquette rules for Chinese New Year.

other symbolism related to gift giving for lunar new year

In addition, people often advise avoiding some other items as Lunar New Year gifts, based on their symbolism. The last thing you want to do is bestow a bad-luck gift for Chinese New Year!

For many people, these may not be all that important in the present day – but for some, they’re cherished rituals and beliefs that they’ll be glad you were cognizant of.

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You’re pretty like to know whether or not your gift recipient is likely to mind whether or not you adhere to these traditions. If you’re not sure, follow them!

  • Sharp objects like knives and scissors represent cutting off a relationship.
  • Mirrors are fragile and can be broken easily.
  • Wallets symbolize giving your own fortune away.
  • White, blue and black are colors associated with death and funerals, so avoid gifting objects in these colors.

gift giving etiquette rules for the lunar new year 

Keep these simple guidelines in mind, and you’ll be able to show your cultural understanding, respect and affection for that special person celebrating Lunar New Year.

Other etiquette norms to keep in mind? The distribution of Lunar New Year gifts begins with the oldest person in the room. And traditionally, no one opens their gift in front of the giver – they set it aside to open later, in private. Man, how many awkward moments must that prevent!

Just one more rule – don’t forget to present your gift with both hands! Now you know everything you need for a felicitous and merry Lunar New Year. Have fun!

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For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier Newsletter hereAnd see luxury in a new light.

Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, fitness and even investigating police misconduct. Julie lives in NYC where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing and spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.

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For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. And see luxury in a new light.

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