It’s a tradition all children look forward to with glee, hands rubbing together in anticipation. It puts a sparkle in every eye and a hint of impatience in every step as they wait anxiously for that wonderful moment. To a child, it is more, much more than the new clothes they get to wear or the sumptuous banquet of delicious food. It is the Chinese New Year tradition of the Red Packet.
Red Packets, also known as “hong bau”, “ang pau” or “lai see”, depending on the Chinese dialect, are essentially envelopes stuffed with money. They are usually red, as the name suggests, as the Chinese believe the color is an auspicious one. Once small and plain, these envelopes have evolved through the years to become sumptuously decorated masterpieces, with lucky symbols and good wishes gracing its surface. The packets are believed to represent blessings and prosperity, and are also said to enhance energy or chi, abundance and happiness.
The origins of the red packet is unclear but legend has it that back in the Sung Dynasty, a fearsome demon was terrorizing the village of Chang Chieu. Brave warriors came from near and far to battle the demon but to no avail. All of them were defeated and only the lucky ones lived to tell the tale. One day, a young orphan boy appeared, brandishing a saber. This was no ordinary saber, but a magical one that he had inherited from his ancestors. Armed with this powerful weapon, he battled and slew the demon. As a token of their deep gratitude, the villagers presented the boy with money wrapped in red paper, which gave birth to a Chinese tradition that remains to this day. Others claim that in the Qing Dynasty, the elderly would thread coins on a red string. The coins were called “ya sui qian” and were believed to ward off evil spirits and illness. Eventually, this practice evolved into placing paper money in red envelopes.
Every Chinese New Year eve, extended families will gather together to celebrate the new year with a reunion dinner. On the first day of Chinese New Year, the married members of the family will present unmarried family members with these lucky red packets. The amount of money in the packets varies, typically with the closeness of the family connection. The closer the connection, the more the packets will contain. However, it is customary to include an even amount of money as odd-numbered amounts are typically associated with funerals.
The tradition of gifting red packets also extends to friends. The Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, and throughout this period, married adults are expected to present these red packets to every unmarried younger family member or friend that they meet.
The red packet tradition is not limited to Chinese New Year. Since the packets are considered to be auspicious blessings, they are also presented at weddings, and special occasions like birthdays or graduations. In addition, the Chinese believe that a red packet stuffed with a gold coin and stored in your wallet, purse or handbag will bring good luck.
ALL OF US AT LEE'S WISH YOU GOOD LUCK IN YOUR ENDEAVORS THIS YEAR.