Red Clothes, a Perfect Chinese New Year Gift for Someone’s Zodiac Year

Usually when we send anything for Chinese New Year to my husband’s parents here in China, it invariably elicits a very standard response that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Chinese culture: “You shouldn’t have spent that money!” In fact, Jun’s parents already used this phrase on us twice – once after receiving the Chinese New Year gift boxes of Chinese jujube dates and walnuts, and then again after sending some whole root ginseng.

But when Jun told his father in a phone conversation that a gift box of auspicious red socks were also headed his way, he perked up with an uncharacteristic note of excitement in his voice. “Eh, your mother told me to buy some red socks and underwear!”

(That was my father-in-law’s way of saying: I love it, thank you!)

Those who know something about Chinese New Year culture and superstitions won’t find it surprising that he embraced this delivery more than the others.

First of all, wearing red in your Chinese zodiac year supposedly wards off the potential bad luck that might threaten anyone born under that zodiac sign. And second, people say the red clothing offers stronger protection if someone else buys it for you.

So since I bought him pairs of red socks, that could make these an especially propitious and welcome way to ring in this Chinese New Year, his own zodiac year.

Red socks or underwear (from actual briefs, boxers or panties to long johns) can present easy options to buy for your friends and family, provided you know their sizes. But when in doubt, go for anything painted in brilliant red: hats, scarves, gloves, wraps and even necklaces or bracelets.

Have any Chinese family or friends about to enter their zodiac year? Don’t forget them on your Chinese New Year shopping list – and remember, this is one time that someone might actually cheer to receive underwear or socks! For ideas, visit my post Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian).

Need more Chinese New Year gift ideas for your Chinese loved ones? I’ve written extensively on the subject of gift-giving and recommend the following posts:

P.S.: If you’re shopping this Chinese New Year 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!

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:

Continue reading “Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian)”

The Chinese Zodiac Effect

Lit-up red Chinese lanterns
When you live in China, you cannot escape the Chinese zodiac, and the light it shines on everyday life.

My Chinese husband used to be what his mother called nanyang (难养, difficult to raise). But she didn’t turn to any Chinese equivalent of Dr. Spock to solve the problem. She saw a fortune teller.

“The fortune teller said I had a conflict with my father,” John told me. He’s a horse in the Chinese zodiac, and apparently rats — the sign of his father — just don’t get along well with their equine brethren. “So the fortune teller suggested she find a godfather who is a tiger.” That’s a tiger in the Chinese zodiac.

And that explains why a man John refers to as “godfather” shows up at John’s family home for Chinese New Year and other major holidays in China. He may not be blood family, but he’s important to the family harmony.

It’s not the first time I’d experienced the Chinese zodiac at work in daily life in China. Continue reading “The Chinese Zodiac Effect”