Updated: 2013-01-01 07:52
By Cao Yin (China Daily)
A young woman smiles after receiving a gift from her boyfriend on Valentine's Day in 2012 in Zhengzhou, Henan province. Liu Shuting / For China Daily
Series of holidays at year's end put couples under pressure to come up with gift ideas
Christmas, New Year's Day, Spring Festival and Valentine's Day.
Ma Yuqiang counted the several holidays that would soon be coming in quick succession and shook his head with a sigh.
The 26-year-old owner of an online shop in Beijing then suddenly recalled his celebration on Dec 9 of the fifth anniversary of his first meeting with his girlfriend - yet another occasion for him to give gifts to a loved one.
"I've racked my brain to come up with some romantic surprises or find some different gifts, but my ideas for what to do for all of these occasions have completely dried up," he said.
"I don't have any ideas, really. These holidays are just too stressful. They're a real burden," he said, adding that he gave his girlfriend an iPad as a birthday gift earlier this year.
"I didn't want her to be disappointed. Maybe I could just celebrate all these holidays at once and bring together all of the gifts I'm going to give out for one big surprise."
Like Ma, many young people like to celebrate these special occasions in a big way, a tendency that has many of them feeling anxious about the approaching crowd of holidays.
One source of concern is the Lunar New Year, which marks the beginning of Spring Festival. It falls on Feb 10 next year, a mere four days before Valentine's Day, a holiday that is becoming increasingly popular among young Chinese couples.
Rather than reasons for celebration, many young people are quickly beginning to see holidays as being "sweet burdens".
Men in particular tend to complain about how they have depleted their wallets and minds in attempts to give loved ones pleasant surprises.
In Fujian province's Xiamen, 30 randomly selected couples between the ages of 18 and 35 spent an average of 1,147 yuan ($184) on Valentine's Day this year, a 15 percent increase from the year before, the Xiamen Evening News reported.
And as gifts take on ever-greater importance in relationships, couples in that group are expected to spend even more on Valentine's Day this year.
"I've taken the time to prepare a Christmas present for my girlfriend," said Li Dongxu, 28, who works for a media outlet in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province, and is dating a girl who lives in Beijing.
"Buying a bunch of flowers is a must. This present will be a bridge that my love can cross over to get to her."
Giving gifts is especially important when the partners in a relationship live far apart from each other, he said.
"A present is just a symbol of love, so it does not have to be very expensive," he said. "But it still takes some time for me to think about her hobbies and about what she likes when I'm trying to pick out something that will make her smile."
Cai Donghua, a 27-year-old married man from Beijing's Yanqing county, said gifts do not necessarily signify the presence of true love, although he said he thinks it would be unwise to ignore every holiday, noting that his wife sometimes gives him hints that she is expecting a pleasant surprise.
The man had sent his wife flowers regularly when he was dating her. Now, though, he has let that habit lapse and taken to ignoring important dates.
He said he believes every day can be a special day for a couple that resolves to make the most of its time.
Ma Xizhe, a senior manager at Century Love, a matchmaking website in China, said many people worry too much about gift giving, adding there's no reason that presents must be expensive.
"I have seen some men who've said they are annoyed with the idea of giving gifts," she said. "I think they are just complaining and they are still happy about their relationships. Young people like sending different kinds of gifts. But as they grow up, most of them become practical and gifts become less important in their lives."
She said everyone, both men and women, enjoys receiving a present.
"What people want to do for a holiday is to demonstrate their good intentions," she said. "So the price of a gift and the gift ideas you think of are not very important. The important thing is to think about who will be with you and about living a peaceful life."
She said men's common complaints can actually be interpreted as giving evidence of the affection they hold for their partners.
"After all, they are thinking about gifts," she added.
Like men, women have many occasions for giving gifts.
Cui Shaoyu, 24, for example, has been busy in recent weeks trying to get a present ready for her boyfriend.
The employee of a Beijing web company said she buys things for her boyfriend almost every holiday and doesn't care if he reciprocates.
Cui said he loves photography and often looks at micro blogs written about cameras. She has watched him go through posts and made notes about what seemed to interest him, as well as spent time talking to his friends to learn more about his preferences.
"Any gift I give him should be something that's useful to him," she said. "Some girls have also done a lot to prepare gifts for their boyfriends, but the presents didn't turn out to be very helpful."
She said she bought a camera for her boyfriend that cost more than 10,000 yuan.
"I knew it was going to be expensive, but he can use it," she said. "So I'm pretty happy and contented. Usually, it's hard for a man to think up ideas for gifts. And it may be better if women decide how festivals should be celebrated. Women tend to be better at working out romantic and inexpensive plans."
Speaking of the coming Spring Festival and Valentine's Day, Cui said she plans to arrange a trip with her boyfriend.
"It will be a present or surprise for him and will let me spend more time with him," she said. "In other words, this is a way to kill two birds with one stone."
Thought that counts
Like Cui, many men are perfectly content to come up with their own gift ideas.
Zhang Chao, a Beijing resident who has been in a relationship for more than two years, regularly tries to surprise his girlfriend and said he thinks it's essential to give gifts to mark holidays.
"On regular holidays, having her with me is more important than giving her luxurious gifts," the 25-year-old said.
"But on certain days that are very meaningful to us, a special gift is a must."
He said he likes watching his girlfriend's face light up when she gets a present, adding that gifts are "sweet burdens" and add flavor to relationships. He said he tries to demonstrate his deep love for his girlfriend by choosing gifts for her that are different from what others typically give.
"Some men said they cannot read their girlfriends' minds and always have trouble coming up with appropriate gifts," he said.
He said he has given presents that haven't been particularly well received.
After starting his relationship with his girlfriend half a year ago, Zhang spent an entire afternoon shopping with a colleague and finally chose a 2,000 yuan necklace for his girlfriend.
"I guessed that most girls would like this kind of shiny jewelry, and she showed her affection for me after I placed it around her neck," he said. "I thought I had done well, but she hardly wore it. She dislikes a necklace with a crystal pendant, which I only learned later.
"After that, she said she would start telling me what she likes directly. I was really happy to hear that, because it meant I won't have to spend a lot of time trying to guess what her preferences are," he said.
"To avoid misunderstandings and arguments about gifts, communication is very important in a relationship."
After spending more time with his girlfriend, Zhang gradually found she loved to receive gifts adorned with sweet words and elegant decorations.
"Catering for your partner's affections is the main thing, and the cost of a present is not that important," he said.
He also said it's important to be familiar with loved ones' hobbies and favorite pursuits or objects, saying that can be done by paying attention to their micro blogs or the websites they read regularly.
While Zhang worked to prepare some gifts, his girlfriend, Zhao Huijin, thought about the best way to decorate a New Year's present.
She said she plans to send him a scarf, something that doesn't have to be expensive and can be decorated in a way she designs herself.
"Even for a card that just conveys my best wishes, I'll draw up something or paint patterns to make it special," she said.
The 25-year-old woman was greatly impressed by the gift Zhang sent her last Valentine's Day - an album filled with pictures of scenes of the route they take to go to and from their homes.
"It was really wonderful and clever, and I can tell his heart was in it," she said. "He even wrote some sweet words to go with each picture. I was really touched."
Sending gifts like that is a good way for men to save money, she said.
"The time, energy and money that are spent on choosing a gift can make it seem like a burden, but it also leads to sweet memories."
A couple shops for bags in Raffles City mall in Beijing on Wednesday. Zou Hong / China Daily
A man chooses a ring for his girlfriend at a jewelry shop in Zouping county, Shandong province, earlier this year. Dong Naide / For China Daily
A couple goes shopping in Beijing's Sanlitun shopping area on Wednesday. Zou Hong / China Daily
(China Daily 01/01/2013 page8)