To first understand red packets, one must go back to China where the trend originated from. These red packets or envelopes of money are red as the Chinese believe it to be an auspicious color. The amount of money in these packets also have to be an even digit as odd numbers are associated with funerals. A popular denomination is 8 as it is a homophone for “lucky”, “prosperity” and “fortune” in the Chinese language. Conversely, 4 is a homophone for “death” and is often avoided. So when do people dole out the money and when do people expect to receive these little red packets of cash, aka “hong paos”?
Chinese New Year
Every Chinese New Year, those married with children will have to prepare packets of money for their own children as well as the children of their friends and relatives. Generally, as long as you are not married, you are entitled to receiving a red packet but many elders might pass on those who have already started working. Some families go above and beyond with their gifts and use customised red packets Singapore for their monetary gifts. A myth behind this tradition is that parents want to stop their children from growing older by bribing the gods and paying them off, so that their children will lead long and happy lives.
Another popular occasion where red packets are abound is during wedding ceremonies. The meaning behind these packets are slightly different. On the surface it is to bless the couple with marital bliss but it is also a gift to help the couple foot the bill. Chinese weddings often rack up a huge bill due to decorations, costume changes, the amount of guests (most of whom are not the couple’s friends but rather the friends of the parents of the bride and groom) and the food. Exotic and expensive delicacies are often served during weddings to show guests that the couple is generous. In a culture which values “face” and pride, it is important for the couple to show their wealth in order to bless their marriage.
Baby full moon and other joyous occasions
The Chinese celebrates a baby’s first month of life by throwing a full moon party where friends and family gather to fawn upon the new addition to the family. The new parents would receive red packets along with gold for their young one. This money and wealth is often kept by the parents for their child’s future use and they usually put it away for their future college fund. Aside from these traditional gifts, the more modern generation might get practical gifts such as diaper hampers and expensive gadgets such as breast pumps or sanitizers that the couple has put on a wishlist.
If it is a celebration of sorts and you have no idea what to get, a red packet is always welcomed. It is a much better look than stuffing a $50 dollar bill into the hand of whoever is being celebrated.
With the rise of digital red packets, perhaps the physical versions might slowly die out. But in the meantime, it is still a largely celebrated aspect of the Chinese custom.