Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian)

Good Fortune Earrings in Copper
Red “good fortune” earrings with a copper backing (from Jean Toh’s Store)

In the US, this Friday (aka Black Friday) kicks off the holiday season. For John and me, that means Christmas all the way through Chinese New Year.

Most years, I’m excited at the prospect of making spiced pumpkin bread or Chinese-style jiaozi, and decorating our home with Christmas tree lights and duilian. This year, though, the holidays — specifically, Chinese New Year — fill me with some trepidation.

Well, even though this is going to date me, here’s the deal — I’m a snake, and 2013 is the year of the snake. That means, in Chinese zodiac terms, 2013 is my benming nian (běnmìngnián, 本命年), the year of my birth zodiac sign.

Red lacy underwear hanging on a doorknob
The number one gift for anyone about to face their Chinese zodiac year? Red underwear. (photo from by Priya Ranganath)

Unfortunately, your benming nian is traditionally considered unlucky, something I have firsthand experience with. During my last benming nian, I moved five times in that year, worked three soul-crushing jobs, and suffered two months under a sadistic roommate. My father came down with a life-threatening condition during his benming nian; my mother, sadly, died during hers.

Fortunately, though, the superstition about your benming nian comes with a so-called solution in the form of gifts. Supposedly, with the right gifts from family and friends, I could breeze through 2013 — and quite possibly have one fantastic year.

With that in mind, I decided to dedicate my usual holiday gifts post to those people on the eve of their own Chinese zodiac year. What should you get them this holiday season? Here are a few ideas:

Red Underwear

Red Converse Chuck Taylor Shoes
Red Converse Chuck Taylors (photo from, by Stefan Sager)

If you only buy one good-luck gift for someone’s Chinese zodiac year, let it be red underwear.

Supposedly, if you wear the color red every single day during your zodiac year, it helps protect you from misfortune. But since most of us don’t own lots of red pants, red shirts or red dresses, this is probably the easiest way to introduce a little red into your life on a daily basis. Besides, there’s something sexy about the color red, and who doesn’t love a little sexy lingerie or boxers/briefs?

Other Red Clothing

If it’s in your budget, who says you have to stop at red underwear?

Red socks can be another easy way to wear this auspicious color — just watch for those fashion don’ts (bright red socks plus black tuxedo = really bad idea).

You could give her or him red shirts, great to wear on their own or layered under other clothing. Also think accessories, such as red shoes (I once owned a pair of red Converse Chuck Taylors) or even red glasses.

Red Chinese knot bracelet
Adjustable Chinese Knot Bracelet, from Beads & Pouches stop

Don’t forget red sweaters, such as a gorgeous Metersbonwe sweater with a faux-fur hood and a snowflake pattern. (John, are you reading this?)

Red Jewelry

If he or she loves a little sparkle or bling, why not make it red too?

Men might love a simple necklace or pendant, like this Carnelian Dragon Pendant, or a simple red bracelet, such as this Chinese Knot Bracelet. Rings could work great too.

Women might go a little fancier with the above — but if she’s got pierced ears, don’t forget the earrings. I’m loving these red good fortune earrings (see photo at top), which combine this important color for your zodiac year with one powerfully lucky Chinese character.

Jade Jewelry

A deep green jade pendant
Jade (photo by Daniel Gasienica)

Besides the color red, jade is your new best friend during your zodiac year, as it also supposedly wards off bad luck. I should know — my husband John got through his last benming nian by wearing a jade pendant; that same year, he met and fell in love with me. Coincidence? You can decide. Meanwhile, I’ll be dusting off that jade pendant my friend gifted me years ago, and preparing it for 2013.

While most people wear their jade as a pendant, don’t forget earrings, rings or even bracelets.

So, when you hit the shops this holiday season, think of your friends and family who are about to pass through their own Chinese zodiac year — and don’t forget to drop a little red (or jade) under their Christmas tree this year.

What would you recommend as a gift for someone’s upcoming Chinese zodiac year?

P.S.: If you’re shopping this holiday season on, you can actually support Speaking of China — at no additional cost to you — by making a purchase through one of my affiliate links. Thanks!

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21 Replies to “Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian)”

  1. I’m a robot monkey*, but while 1992 and 2004 weren’t especially great years, I don’t remember any particularly bad misfortune, either.

    *metal monkey, but I figure robots are cooler

  2. I’m a pig and I remember 2007 and 1995 to be particularly very trying years for me.

    I have to say, for me, it seems like jade is the best way to ward off bad luck and not just on benming nian. Liang and his cousin got me this knot bracelet adorned by a jade shishi (“foo dog”) at a temple in China and every time I wear it, I usually have good days and when I don’t wear it, bad things happen. I also have a favourite red shirt and every time I wear it, it seems like I receive good fortune.

    Maybe you should wear both red and jade during your benming nian for extra precaution? 🙂

  3. Have you checked which element your snake is? (e.g. this year is the water dragon) That may make a difference to which things will be most effective. (water dragons should never be depicted in red, apparently) Also, you may want to find out which of the 5 elements you are missing so that you can add them in and balance things out.

    My coworkers were talking about this at lunch. I wish I had been able to follow the conversation better!

  4. In 1997, (My mom and I are both born in year of the ox,) year of an ox I would guess that the year was very life-changing, although I think I had a good one: my family and I traveled to Disney World during the summer, I moved to another city because we bought a house, and I had a good birthday year, I think. I also that year discovered I had writing talent and made a decision to want to be a writer. The bad thing that did happen was my mom’s car accident prior to moving to where I live now. In 2009, I recall that my Korean ex gave me a great birthday party, hmm there must be more negatives/positives that happened. My younger sister was born in year of the rabbit, and that was a trying year for all of us: that same year my grandfather had to go through quadruple bypass and ended up staying in a hospital until next year in March. Normally we celebrate holidays from about September up until December, but this time we skipped every single holiday. My sister’s wedding also happened to be during that time, so I can imagine it was difficult for her because my mom wasn’t having much fun due to my grandfather in hospital.

  5. Honoring tradition is one thing. Superstition is another. Zodiac is not pure tradition. If dragon is almighty above other creature, what happens to those born in other years? Plenty of these silly beliefs in Chinese culture.
    Thanksgiving becomes a family holiday and a good one. I want to see tradition that can bring people together. Not something that puts you on defense. I am quite indifferent when my year comes around.
    I know many cultures think red is an offensive color.

  6. Well, mine is the year of the dragon, and in that time I got married to the love of my life…. best thing that ever happened to me. Maybe you will have a very lucky year after all. Just wear lots of red and jade. 🙂 Although I rarely wear red. I have a little dragon statue next to my bed, and he is slightly red. Could that be protection of the dragon? I don’t know. Haha, aren’t traditions just lovely?

  7. Also, if this is how it works, that means everyone in the world would have a bad year when they were 12, and another at 24, and another at 36, and so on. Every single person would have a bad year in that year of their life, at that age. 12 and 24 make sense: 12 is a tween year, generally junior high, and those years are always particularly trying (not just 12, but 11-15 seems to be pretty difficult for everyone. Being a young teen is hard). At 24 you’re an adult but a young one, with few resources and less money, expected to ‘make it’ in the adult world but with no idea of how to actually do so when you’re broke as a joke and for many, the dating world seems set up simply to inflict misery upon all.

    I just can’t believe, though, that everyone in the world has a bad year at age 12 and another at 24, and nobody has a good year at age 24 or whatever. That’s just plainly not true.

    I can’t speak for 36 and up as I’m only 32, but you’d think those years’d get better…

    But as for these beliefs being “silly”, no. They’re no sillier than any other similar belief from any other culture, and everyone has something they think is silly: I mean, I’m an atheist. Could I say “Believing in a god, any god, is a silly belief, a crazy superstition?” I *could*, but I won’t. And yet to me, beliefs about Chinese astrology or folk gods really is no different than, say, going to church.

  8. @Jenna
    I hope you are not insulting religious people.
    Seeking a personal relationship with God is very different from getting a red underwater due to a belief of blessing from whom and for what reason?
    I don’t care if other people choose to follow the superstition.

  9. 不要緊! The year I turned 36, I married Tom, traveled to three European countries, learned I was pregnant with my daughter, and left corporate America behind forever (at least I hope!). It will be a fabulous year for you, too. These shopping times are the best. I just found this amazing website for all things Asian, especially Chinese. They have a 50% off online sale until November 30. I just bought Tom some dragon cufflinks (not his zodiac year, but something to remember this year) and a Hong Kong matching game for said daughter. I hope everyone has a happy and healthy holiday season–all the way to the Chinese New Year!

  10. I was born in the snake year as well. In 2001, I was in China, fell in love with the most amazing Chinese man and got married that year. I didn’t know that ban nian was unlucky cause I feel like the luckiest girl of all!

  11. @Laura. You rock White girl. I am elated to read that you found and married a Chinese man. I am close to getting a Chinese girlfriend and this weekend I will propose to her to be my girlfriend. If she says “yes” then I will finally have a “fortune chickie.” Wish me luck

  12. If you don’t want to lose your ass off at the casinos , wear red underwear. 🙂 LOL hahahhahaha. Red underwear and red high heels . What a perfect combination!

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