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Chinese New Year is fast approaching and you know what it means! Family dinners, remembrance of fireworks and parades (ah… maybe next year!), Wall decorations, lion dances and drum sounds, and I see!
Surely you know the ornate red paper envelope filled with money by now. Known as I see in Cantonese, hong bao in mandarin and ang pao in Hokkien, this red package is a gift given on important occasions: weddings, birthdays and, of course, the start of the lunar new year.
Traditionally, the envelopes are red (hong / ang means red, bao / pao means package) with golden calligraphy, as the colors signify good fortune – ideal for a new year. And a tradition isn’t a tradition without some guidelines, so we’ve compiled everything you need to know to make sure you’re avoiding bad luck in your future, or worse, bad judgment right now.
How to give and receive lai see
What does lai see?
Besides the myths and supernatural origins of the red packet (“The Legend of Sui” to be exact), ancient China has a tradition of donating coins to ward off evil spirits dating back to the Han Dynasty. Later, the custom of giving money involved stringing coins with a red string or offering them in a red colored pouch. Newer coins would lose the hole through which a string could be threaded, resulting in an increase in the number of coins offered in wrapped paper packages. And until today, banknotes are readily available and the packages, which are always red, are easy to buy.
Who gives and who receives?
You can follow the simple rule of “big to small” – which means “increasingly younger” and “from senior to junior”. Usually, lai see is given through those who are married and of higher authority, at those who are younger and single!
This includes children, unmarried loved ones, and those younger than you. It also includes service providers. It’s true! Your housekeepers, the guards of your building, even the waiters, it is a way of showing gratitude to those around you.
What do you put in a red package?
A unique and crunchy note. Fresh and new banknotes direct from the bank are the most popular, although the government encourages the use of “like new to lai-see” notes. Coins are generally avoided.
The amount of money you put up to you! Everything is linked to your relationship with the beneficiary: the closer you are, the more money you have to give.
Avoid amounts that end in 4 (for reasons of sounds close to death, tetraphobia for anyone reading the Wiki page). In fact, avoid any amount with the number 4. Better safe than sorry!
You want to stick with even numbers. In Hong Kong, our banknotes allow you to work only in multiples of ten, which makes it easy to avoid odd numbers.
As we said, your amounts will vary, but as a guide you can opt for:
- HK $ 20- $ 50 for someone you see frequently but don’t know very well, such as an acquaintance or building staff
- 100 HK $ for someone you know and love, or see very often – like your friends, family, loved ones, and even someone you work above
Put different amounts in different envelopes so you can tell them apart and make sure you stock up on red packages.
When and how do you give lai see?
You can start distributing the lai see at the start of the Chinese New Year on February 1 of this year, and you have every fortnight until the Spring Lantern Festival on February 15.
Hold the red package in both hands and exchange your greetings – you might say kung hei big choy Where sun tai kin hong!
What if I receive a red envelope?
Lucky you! Make sure you receive your lai see with both hands and express your gratitude. And don’t take a look right away – it’s considered rude to open a red package in front of the person who gave it to you.
Kung hei big choy!
(Hero image courtesy of RODNAE Productions via Pexels, featured image courtesy of Angela Roma via Pexels, Image 1 courtesy of Angela Roma via Pexels, Image 2 courtesy of courtesy of Omid Armin via Unsplash, image 3 courtesy of Angela Roma via Pexels)