In China your Chinese New Year is expected to be selected based on your income. Your gift does not have to be fancy, and food and drink is okay. Remember to put your gifts in a box or a bag. Red and gold are considered fortunate colors and white and black are taboo colors.
Choosing a New Year gift for your friends is based mostly on the intimacy of your friendship. Choosing alcohol, tobacco, flowers, tea, or fruits is common. If you want to be more adventurous, you will need to be more circumspect.
If your Chinese hosts drink alcohol, preparing a nice bottle of alcohol could be a nice choice.
If your male Chinese host smokes, find out what he likes. He will appreciate a nice carton of whichever brand it is.
Most Chinese people love tea. Tea is always a nice gesture no matter whether your hosts are Chinese or not. A nicely wrapped box of tea is much better than giving bagged tea for gifts.
Fruit baskets are a common and proper gift for your Chinese hosts, and they can be found in many large shops. However, some fruit baskets sold on the markets might hide some inferior-quality fruit at the bottom. If you want a satisfactory fruit basket, you could buy the fruit yourself and have the vendor wrap it for you, or wrap it with red ribbon yourself.
Giving a box of oranges or a box of apples is also recommended, because apples and oranges respectively symbolize safety and fortune.
If your hosts have moved into a new house not long before hand, then home supplies such as a tea set, electrical equipment, or crockery are popular choices.
Instead of alcohol and tobacco, it is more popular to choose a New Year gift benefiting the seniors’ health. So anything you can think of that will make the seniors feel healthier and bring pleasure to their life is okay.
If you are familiar with your hosts, you can prepare a hat, a pair of gloves, a scarf or some clothes as a gift for the seniors in your hosts’ family.
In traditional Chinese medicine, massage is a gentle and effective way to repair one’s body. A high-quality comb can be used to massage the head, and a foot bath massager will improve the blood circulation of the feet, which will bring the seniors warmth in a cold winter.
The key point to choosing a New Year gift for your hosts’ children is to select an item which can express your good wishes to the children, either for their healthy growth or for their cleverness.
Take some candy with you during Chinese New Year; so that you can give some happiness to the kids you come across.
If your Chinese hosts have children, do not forget to prepare some red packets (hongbao). Both the hosts and the children would appreciate it if you know the tradition.
Visiting your Chinese hosts with some school supplies like a writing pen, a school notebook or a nice box of painting brushes (if the kids are keen on painting) will give the kids a pleasant surprise.
Books such as enlightening reading materials or one of the world’s great classics, ideally chosen according the child’s interests, are also highly recommended, and will represent your best wishes for their future.
A good-quality toy is also a nice gift for your hosts’ children, such as a Barbie doll for a little girl, and a remote control car for a little boy. A chess set or other game is a good gift for a teenager.
If you are quite intimate with your hosts' family, you can buy their children a set of clothes as a gift. It can be a practical gift.
There are some things which are a big no-no to give to your Chinese friends during the Spring Festival. Don’t buy them, otherwise your friends may break up with you when receiving them.
See more on Gift Giving Etiquette.