Red Packets

“During the Chinese New Year, I’m no sure about elsewhere in Asia, but in Singapore, the Red Packets are given from married people to single people. Red Packets are envelopes filled with money. Single in this case usually means younger folk. So the tradition is that the younger folk have to kneel in front of the older, married people, and say, “gong xi fa cai,” which is basically a congratulations. As they do this, they’re supposed to hand two oranges in outstretched palms facing upwards. You have to hand the orange to the elder respectfully. Then the elder will take the oranges and give you the Red Packed filled with money. It’s basically a favorite time of the year for all kids. You pretty much go family or house hopping during the two days we celebrate the Chinese New Years. Two days for us, and Hong Kong has like two weeks or something. And you collect money.”


My informant recollected this tradition with a lot of laughs and good memories. She remembers it as a time when she felt rich as a child with all the envelopes she received from her elders. Now it has a different meaning for her, since it is suppose to be a time for well wishes and respect. I understand this, as I grew up with a similar tradition. I also bowed to my elders and received money. When I was a child, I would be excited to receive the money and spend it on various things. Now, it is different in that I am more hesitant to take the money since I know the hard work that is required o earn the money. Instead, I look forward more to the advice they give. As they hand me envelopes, they usually also give me advice for the new upcoming year, as well as expectations. It is funny to compare what the elders said to me as a child and what they said to me now. Before they would tell me to behave and obey my parents. Now they speak about future spouses and jobs. I’m not sure where the tradition of receiving money for new years came about, but it is a time to show respect to elders through the bowing. You can see the joy on the faces of the elders as they watch their children and grandchildren bow to them, and how they happily give away the packets of money.