Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year generally falls between late January and mid February in the Gregorian calendar. This year, Chinese New Year is on January 23, 2012 (February 3, 2011). It is a highly anticipated holiday for Chinese children for two primary reasons: fireworks and red envelopes! In Chinese tradition, married couples give red envelopes usually filled with money to children. In return, they say an auspicious greeting for good luck before receiving a red envelope.
The amount of money inside each envelope varies with the individual. It can range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars depending on the relationship and the generosity of the giver. The true value of the red envelope is in the New Year’s blessing for an auspicious year and not the monetary value inside the packet. I fondly remember receiving twenty dollars in my red envelope every Chinese New Year. At that time, twenty dollars was impressive to a kid. Now, I cheekily ask my mother if she forgot about inflation. Some unfortunate first hand lessons on red envelope etiquette include:
- Don’t open the red envelope in front of the giver
- Don’t compare red envelopes in plain sight.
- Don’t brag about red envelopes.
- Don’t mention inflation to the giver.
Chinese parents continue to give red envelopes to their unmarried adult children. Once married, the roles are reversed and you are expected to hand out red envelopes. Although it hurts your bank account, it can be considered an investment. Red envelopes are a symbol of job luck. By handing out good luck, you are also earning good luck in return. It may be superstitious thinking of the Chinese, but why risk having bad luck throughout the year.
So as the Chinese would say, Gong Xi Fa Cai or Happy Chinese New Year!