Chinese New Year in Chinese populations can be compared to Christmas in Western Christian countries. This is a holiday period where presents are offered to children. Through time and thanks to marketing, older people receive gifts too at this period. At Christmas, gifts can be clothes, games, perfume, alcohol… almost anything material. In China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietmam, Japan or Korea, people usually exchange red envelope gifts (Actually white envelopes in Japan) instead of material gifts. Those red envelopes are also offered for birthdays, spring festival or ghost month. Peanuts Daily wanted to know the history of this tradition and share it with you.[See related article about Ma Ying-jeou Christmas in 2014 and his plans for Chinese New Year Holiday in 2016]
During Qing Dynasty in China, elder people would give 8 coins with a red string in order to protect the children from demons. The brightness of the coins would scare the demons off. Envelopes have replaced the red string later on and those envelopes would be placed under the children’s pillows. Historically, adults would not receive envelopes or red strings but actual presents. Those gifts were fruits, silk, glass bottles or rare objects. Red envelopes being exchanged between adults is actually a quite recent custom and therefore not traditional at all: this is a loss of the traditions to not offer gifts anymore. But, why do we offer red envelope gifts instead of actual gifts to adults if this is no tradition?
We met Mr. Cho-yun Hsu (84 year-old Chinese historian) who told us his thoughts:
Society changed. People don’t respect the traditions anymore and that’s a shame. In history, giving rare objects to elders was to show the respect we have for them. It was more personal and people would spend time looking for those items. Now, people became lazy and they don’t want to waste their time for the elders. They just want to spend 2 minutes at the ATM.
I will offer gifts and red envelops to my family for Chinese New Year 2015 and I will explain them why. Hope you will do the same.
Author: Mr. Lin, Bruce.