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___ Red Envelopes, Lai Shi, Hong Bao

Red Envelopes, (Cantonese: 利是, 利市 or 利事, pinyin: lai shi or lai see; Mandarin 紅包 pinyin: hóng bāo).

Red Envelopes
Red envelopes with necklace, bamboo and yin and yang sign, shop along the road side, China Town, Bangkok
Photo © Valeska Gehrmann

The red envelopes normally contain money and are given by grandparents, parents or married couples to their children, siblings and unmarried people.

According to Chinese believes, as soon as one is married, one has sufficient money and hence can share it (considering the cost of a Chinese Wedding, this might be true). In return, the children or receiving person might present oranges/ tangerines to the giving person.

The symbolic meaning is to wish for good fortune and wealth in the new year, at times it might be used to pay off debt, though it is not to be compared to the western style of giving money to allow someone ‘to buy something nice’.
The envelopes most likely will be decorated with lucky, auspicious symbols and/ or good wishes.

The colour red is the most auspicious colour, not only representing bridal status, but good luck, expansive motion in all aspects of life, hence blooming, reaching upwards, celebration, happiness, joy, vitality, long life, creativity, bringing luck and fame. Before Chinese New Year, new clothing in red colour will be bought and be worn for the first three days of the New Year Celebrations.

The tradition has to do with the legend of Nian, the terrible monster living in the mountain. Nian would come down at the end of the year and terrorize people and animals or even kill them all. It was discovered that the monster was frightened by loud noises, bright lights, and the colour red, hence children were given red paper to protect themselves should they come into contact with the monster.


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