Picture of the Week: Red packet or Lai See

The picture of this week is linked to my Chinese New Year (CNY) posts from the last days. I’ve selected the red packet.

A red packet – or in Cantonese Lai See – is a monetary gift, given at special occasions like the Chinese New Year. Married people hand hand out red envelopes to unmarried ones – and also in companies the senior members hand out packets to junior members.

For children, this is the best time of the year, because it combines our Christmas (which they don’t celebrate) and their birthday (which is also not such a significant day) together and that’s when there are 15 days of celebration, lots of food and sweets, family and friends visiting, days off from school/university/work plus a lot of money to be received in form of red packets.

The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs; for instance 88 and 168 are both lucky numbers, as odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. But there is a widespread tradition that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount, such as 40, 400 and 444 as the pronunciation of the word “four” resembles that of the word “death”, and it signifies bad luck for many Chinese.

It is traditional to put brand new notes inside red envelopes, as well as to avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy. So in the days leading up to the New Year, Chinese banks will have extended opening hours and people will queue up, waiting to exchange old banknotes again new ones.

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