Red Envelopes: An Introduction
Ask any Taiwanese child what their favorite aspect of Chinese New Year is and I am sure their immediate response would be ‘Red Envelopes.’ Those brightly colored envelopes contain money, and not just any money: new, crisp, lucky money!!
Red envelopes are commonly given to children by parents and other relatives proceeding the evening’s feast on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Upon receiving a red envelope, children usually say ‘Gongxi’ meaning congratulations or ‘Gongxi Fa Cai.’ Parents and grandparents are also the recipients of red envelopes from working children as a sign of respect and a gesture of appreciation.
Receiving My Very First Red Envelope
My husband and I had been dating for awhile when he asked me to spend the Lunar New Year with his family. I was very excited!! I knew his family quite well by that point but it was going to be my very first time to personally experience the customs and traditions surrounding this holiday.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, we made our way from Taipei to my husband’s hometown located in the countryside of Taiwan. We left behind the cold weather of the city and were greeted by the warm, welcoming sun in central Taiwan.
My husband’s grandmother was anticipating our arrival all day. As soon as she heard the car arriving, she made her way through the yard towards us. I still have a mental picture of it all to this day. She walked as fast as her legs allowed her, with her cane in one hand and a red envelope in the other, while the black family dog happily made circles around her feet.
She greeted everyone and then she approached me and handed me the red envelope. And I could tell by the thickness of the envelope that there was a substantial amount of money inside!
At first, I really didn’t know what to do. I thought to myself, ‘Should I refuse it or should I just take it?’ But, what was the right thing to do? I glanced at my husband and his brothers for guidance and they insisted ‘Take it, just take it.’
And I did! I took it but at the same time I felt very guilty for accepting such a kind gesture.
Yes, I really did feel guilty. My husband’s grandmother was 92 years old at the time and I am sure that the sum of money inside the envelope was a lot of money to her. Plus, I was working. According to tradition, shouldn’t I be the one showing respect and giving her one?
Pleased that I took it, she returned to her house and waited for us to come visit her.
Knowing that I couldn’t keep the ‘lucky money,’ I gave it to my husband and told him to do what he thought was appropriate with it.
He decided to include the money in the red envelope that he had prepared for his grandmother. He did but he didn’t fool his grandmother. She gave it back to him and told him never to do that again.
So, with no choice but to keep the money, we decided to put it away until we bought a house.
And that is just what we did!
When we bought our house five years ago, we found the red envelope with the new, crisp bills inside and put it towards buying our house.
And it must have been lucky money because we have made this house a home which I am sure would please my husband’s late grandmother.
To learn more about Chinese New Year, check out my other posts: