The red envelope is an important aspect of Chinese culture, but what does the red envelope symbolize?
What Is The Chinese Red Envelope?
Well, the red envelope, also known as hongbao in Mandarin and Lai See in Cantonese, is, quite literally, a red envelope in which money is put into. It is an ornate red paper pocket. It is also the most important element in celebrations for the Chinese people, including but not limited to birthdays, graduations, the birth of a child, the Chinese Lunar New Year, and weddings. It is a common practice for the Chinese and many other Asian cultures.
You could also define the red envelope as a monetary gift that is given to loved ones. As a result, the red envelope is also called the red packet or the money warding off old age because it is what the Chinese people believe happens when you gift your loved ones. A
Meaning Of Red Envelope/Chinese Red Envelope Meaning
During celebrations like the Lunar New Year, it is part of the tradition to gift loved ones a gift in money form in a bright and beautiful envelope.
In addition to showing appreciation and honoring tradition, the Chinese hold the red envelope in very high regard because when the envelope presented to a loved one has cash in it, as it’s always the case, the red envelope is taken as a symbol of good luck, blessings, and it is a great way of wishing loved ones a happy and prosperous life.
The color of the red envelope or the red packet is also red; it is also red because the scarlet color is symbolic of good fortune. It is also considered a powerful tool for guarding and warding off evil spirits. The red packet is often emblazoned with different Chinese characters that not only add beauty to the envelope but also symbolic, with the intricate images incorporated on the envelope believed to invoke good fortune and good luck.
The custom of giving people the red envelopes is quite old, but in the oldest of the stories about giving the red envelope, the money in the red envelope was intended to protect the children from the demon called the Sui and to help the kids fall asleep eventually, and the Sui wouldn’t hurt the children as long as they kept the red envelope with the coins under the pillow. Today, the red envelope is more symbolic of the coins/ cash, and it’s also known as the Sui suppressing money.
Why Are Red Envelopes Red?
Beyond the envelope, the color of the envelope is also important and very symbolic. The color red is very important to the Chinese people because it is a symbol of positive energy, good luck, and happiness. Of course, the money is more important than the envelope, which is ideal for presentation, but the color of the envelope is crucial because it symbolizes good fortune and good luck.
In most cases, the Chinese people give the red envelopes to celebrate big life events, oftentimes when you want to wish your loved ones happy life full of blessings and good luck. With this in mind, the red envelopes are given to newlywed couples, a mom after giving birth, anyone who’s recently graduated, and birthdays, among other celebrations.
Most of the time, the red envelopes are given on the Chinese Lunar New Year, which is the biggest celebration for the Chinese people.
When Can You Open Red Envelopes?
The red envelopes are never meant to be opened in the presence of the person that gifts you the envelope, which means that if you are receiving the red envelope, you’d also have to open it later on after receiving it or away from the person who gifted you.
Why Red Envelopes For Chinese New Year?
Red envelopes are a big part of the Chinese New Year because gifting each other the red envelopes is an important tradition that must be honored by the Chinese people.
It is considered the best way to wish your loved ones a happy New Year, filled with happiness, good luck, great fortune, and prosperity. As a result, the red envelopes given on the Chinese New Year feature Chinese characters that often mean happiness and prosperity, or just the simple, Happy New Year.
Because of the popularity of the red envelopes during the New Year and how it is tradition to give loved ones the red envelope, the Chinese New Year is also known as the red envelope season. Their use is not limited to the Chinese New Year, though.
Red Envelope History
So, how did the red envelope tradition come to be?
Well, the red envelope giving tradition for the Chinese people is quite an old one, but it’s been the crucial part of the Chinese New Year for centuries. But the custom started from somewhere, and it is believed that this tradition for the gifting of the Hongbao started in the same way as many other legends. This one has to do with the demon Sui that used to prey on children while they slept, often on New Year’s Eve. On the day, the demon Sui would get out of his lair, and he’d slip into the homes of unsuspecting families where the demon Sui terrorized children.
Once inside the home, the demon Sui would go into the children’s bedroom, where he would terrorize the kids by dragging his rather wide and long wizened talons all across the foreheads of the sleeping children. This would not only awaken the children, who would let out loud screams but also inflicted demonic headaches to the children.
This went on for a long time until the parents determined that the best way to fight the demons and to protect the kids on the Eve of New Year’s was by keeping their children up all night long. Although this strategy worked at first, it was obvious that the children wouldn’t be able to stay up all night long.
One mother, determined to keep her son safe and healthy, went out to look for the eight lucky coins – the 8 coins were the gods of the Chinese folklore, also known as the 8 Immortals, believed to offer protection. She went ahead and slipped the coins in a red envelope the hid the coins under her son’s pillow. She hoped that this would be enough to deter the wiles of the demon Sui, and after placing them under the pillow, the family all went to bed. In the middle of the night, as was expected of the demon Sui, he slipped into the house under the door, obviously very eager to inflict pain. But as the demon approached the boy’s bed, a hazy beam of light started to radiate from the coins under the pillow, and the light grew brighter as the Sui got closer to the boy. Eventually, the bright lights pierced the eyes of the Sui like sharp knives, and the Sui shrieked and ran away into the night.
From this, it became obvious that the coins in the red envelope helped to ward off the demon Sui, and as the word about this spread, it became a tradition to have the red envelope with 8 coins for the gods under the pillows of the kids for their protection. The innocent people turned this into a tradition.
And today, the red envelope with cash is considered an important gift to children, in particular as it is believed to offer the best kind of protection from evil. The money put in the red envelopes is, therefore, known as the money for deterring and suppressing the demon Sui.
What To Put In Red Envelope Besides Money
Essentially, money is the basic thing that you’d put in the red envelopes. The amount in the envelope ranges from $20 and $200 in crisp notes and not coins. A card could be added, but money is essential, the only thing people put in these red envelopes.
What Is Red Envelope In Wechat?
The WeChat Red Envelop is a mobile application that allows people to exchange red envelopes digitally. It featured virtual packets made of real cash that is transferred into the smartphones or accounts of friends and family directly.
This digital application takes advantage of the user’s ability to send monetary gifts to loved ones in the form of virtual or digital currency. The money is then deposed into the WeChat Pay accounts of the users/ recipients, and they can use the money for real purchases. This app is great because it allows for withdrawals too.
The red envelopes offered through the app are in two main forms – the pairwise red packets that allow you to send money through private chats of two people, or the group red packets for distribution of money through the group chats. It was formed in 2014, and the application has proven very successful.
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