We are in Singapore just a few weeks before the Luna festival of Chinese New Year.
There are many traditions that go with the traditional New Year celebrations, and one of these these involves the giving and receiving of Red Packets.
Red Packets are not just a New Year tradition, but are also used in Wedding and Birthday celebrations
So, what exactly are Red Packets? Well, they are little envelopes, into which money is put and which are given as gifts in order to bring good luck and wealth. The Chinese name for Red Packets “利是 or 利事” apparently translates as “good for business”.
Business managers give Red Packet bonuses to their employees, children and teenagers get Red Packets from older members of their families, friends and sometimes even neighbours.
The symbols in gold on the packets are called “Hong Bao” in Chinese are are symbols for luck and wealth.
The packets are Red in colour because this is thought to ward of evil spirits and red is a symbol for good luck.
Wikipedia tells us:
The act of requesting for red packets is normally called (Mandarin): 討紅包, 要利是. (Cantonese):逗利是. A married person would not turn down such request as it would mean that he or she would be “out of luck” in the new year.
In keeping with Chinese customs, newly wedded couples are also usually expected to be extremely generous with the amount offered in the red packets, so as to receive blessings for a blissful marriage.
The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs, for instance 88 and 168 are both lucky numbers, as odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals.
There is a widespread tradition that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount, such as 40, 400 and 444 as the pronunciation of the word “four” resembles that of the word “death”, and it signifies bad luck for many Chinese cultures.
At weddings, the amount offered is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees as well as a goodwill to the newly weds. It is considered extremely rude to give a low amount of money on such an occasion.
During the Lunar New Year, mainly in South China, red envelopes (in the North, just money without any cover) are typically given to the unmarried by the married; most of whom are children. The amount of money is usually a single note to avoid heavy coins, and to make it difficult to judge the amount inside before opening.
It is traditional to put brand new notes inside red envelopes. In recent years, some Asian-based banks provide newer-looking notes to reduce the environmental impact of printing new banknotes.
Red envelopes are also used to deliver payment for favorable service to lion dance performers, religious practitioners, teachers and doctors.
South Korea’s envelopes are called “sae bae ton” and the envelopes are white, not red.
In Japan, a monetary gift called “Otoshidama” is given to children by their relatives during the Japanese New Year period. However, white envelopes are used instead, with the name of the receiver written on its obverse. A similar practice is observed for Japanese weddings, but the “Goshugi bukuro” envelope is folded rather than sealed, and decorated with an elaborate bow.
We see stands like this one all around, each heaped to the top with packages of Red Packets. I therefore come to the conclusion that if you are in the paper products business, that Chinese New Year must already be getting you off to a lucky and prosperous start.