The advent of New Year is an auspicious occasion in all cultures and countries round the world. As with all societies, this propitious time calls for gifts.

In Chinese and certain other South Asian communities and countries a certain red envelope or red packet is used for gifting money on the New Year’s Day. Money, wrapped in red paper or red envelope is lovingly given to younger members by the elders. These are called Hangbao in Mandarin and Lai see in Cantonese.

  • Why the color Red

The Chinese are reverential and also fond of the color red.  To them the color Red symbolizes good luck, abundant energy, happiness and warding off evil luck.  Thus it is not the money which is of consequence, rather the packet made of red color which symbolizes happiness and blessings from the giver to the receiver.

Therefore it is also considered to be impolite to open and see the contents of the Red Envelope in front of the giver.

  • Origin of Red Envelope

Long ago in China, during the reign of the Qin dynasty, the elderly would use a red string to thread coins.  This was known as the money warding off the evil spirits, and was believed to protect the younger receiver from sickness and death. The Yasui Qian as they were called came to be gradually replaced by red envelope with the advent of the printing presses.  One of the stories surrounding the origin of the red envelope went back to long ago times where a demon harming children, was frightened away by eight fairies sent by God, disguised as coins threaded by a red string and kept under a child’s pillow.  Previously thus, it was traditional to give the red envelopes to children only to ward off evil spirits. However gradually it has come to encompass all loved ones in its fold and effort in wishing luck and warding off evil spirits.

  • The Gifting of Red Envelopes

The giving of Red Envelopes needs preparatory time.  Those who intend to give those, needs to prepare them in advance, so that they can be immediately presented to the receiver’s right after the New Years’ Feast or when the Bell of the New Year rings. If a child falls asleep, it is also customary to keep the red envelope under the pillow of the child.

  • Who can give Red Envelopes-?

Traditionally speaking, anyone who earns or are in a position to gift money should give red envelopes during the New Year. However,  there is also a custom that if you are not married, then you need not give out red envelopes; rather in turn  the married people keep receiving these auspicious red enveloped from their relatives and elders which signifies their blessing.

Some of the people to whom you can give the Red Envelopes are –

  • Elders, especially parents and grandparents
  • Younger generation, who do not earn,
  • To one’s own children
  • To one’s own employees
  • To other children, like your friends’ or acquaintances’

The amount given in these Red Envelopes will always depend on the benevolence of the giver. Thus the red envelope is an integral part of the Chinese New Year celebrations from time immemorial.

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