Around the world in every culture, the birth of a new year signifies change and an opportunity for renewal.  For many people around the world, the Chinese New Year may be an even more important event than the one which is universally celebrated on January 1st.

While in English and some other Asian countries it is described as "Chinese New Year", the festival actually has more in common with Easter than New Year's Day, and Chinese people do not refer to it as "New Year" in their own country.  Some of the characteristics that Chinese New Year has in common with Easter include:

  • Both were originally Spring Festivals
  • Both are celebrated over a period of several days
  • The dates for both are calculated on the phase of the moon
  • Gifts for both are symbolic of abundance, prosperity, rebirth, and fertility

The key differences are that Easter was later converted into a Christian holiday, and Chinese New Year always occurs some time from the end of January until the middle of February, while Easter usually occurs in April.

Not just a Chinese celebration

Chinese New Year is celebrated all over the world, but it has greater visibility in China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Mauritius, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Bendigo.  In China, people don't normally refer to it as New Year, but instead will call it a name that mean Spring Festival.

In most countries outside China, the event is celebrated by Chinese expatriates, but in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, the local populations have embraced the celebration and observance as their own, although there can be marked differences between local variations when compared to the traditional Chinese observance.  In countries like Australia and the United States, where multiculturalism is widely practised and promoted, communities with significant Chinese or Asian populations are likely to hold community events and celebrations for Chinese New Year.

The gifts you give are of great importance

In "Western" cultures, gifts are normally appreciated and received warmly, without much thought being given to what they might symbolise. Chinese culture is very different, and it's important to avoid giving any gift that might be portentous, ominous,  inauspicious, or negatively symbolic.

Flowers are generally an appropriate gift for Chinese New Year, and in fact one of the safest choices, because it's not easy to make mistakes with flowers. Nevertheless, there are some important considerations that you should take into account:

  • Ensure your bouquet does not include any white flowers.
  • Do not include yellow chrysanthemums.
  • There should not be precisely four of any one type of flower.
  • Avoid using black, white, grey, blue, or overly pale colours for decorative items such as baskets, ribbons, vases, etc. 

Tips for choosing flowers for Chinese New Year

The above are the things to avoid, but what about the things that are especially good to give?  Here are a few suggestions on how to ensure your gift is happily received:

  • Choose flowers with bright colours, especially red or yellow (but not chrysanthemums).
  • Decorative items in red or gold colours are a good idea.
  • Real gold isn't always a good idea, depending on how close the relationship is.
  • For the largest flowers in the bouquet, try to have exactly two, and red is best for these.
  • The next largest flowers, you should have three, perhaps bright pink or orange.
  • For the smaller flowers, you should have eight, and closest in colour to gold.

Why these things matter

The above lists of desirable and undesirable traits may seem a little odd if you're not familiar with Chinese symbology. The explanations are complex, but they mainly centre around beliefs that words that sound similar can influence how lucky or unlucky they are, and also things that have positive associations are very auspicious, while things that have negative associations are inauspicious.

Because of that tendency towards positive associations being auspicious, chrysanthemums are often listed as being auspicious because they are strong and can endure harsh conditions.  Unfortunately they're also associated with funerals, especially if they are yellow ones, which is why it's best to play it safe on this particular variety of flower.

In certain contexts, a person may believe you are wishing misfortune upon them if you give them things associated with funerals or death, which is why the number four, drab colours and white or black, and yellow chrysanthemums are definitely to be avoided.

Bright colours, on the other hand, are seen to be very lucky, and to attract good fortune. Most especially the colour red, which is believed to frighten away evil spirits, and to be symbolic of prosperity. Even more symbolic of prosperity is gold, but it's best to keep the use of gold modest. 

Two is considered a lucky number for several reasons, and among them is a saying that "good things come in pairs". Three is also a lucky number because it is linked to birth (new beginnings) and because it is a reminder of the three stages of life, so it's quite appropriate for New Year.  Eight is the luckiest number of all, and is associated with wealth and prosperity. Therefore, a floral arrangement featuring two, three, and eight flowers is symbolic of wishing good fortune, long life, and increased wealth.

Overall, ensuring the flowers are brightly coloured will further add to the association with good fortune. When the larger flowers in the arrangement are red, this would indicate a wish to keep evil influence away, and colours that are suggestive of gold are clearly linked to prosperity.