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Assorted examples of contemporary red envelopes.
|Literal meaning||red package|
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Chinese||利是 or 利事|
|Literal meaning||good for business|
phong bao mừng tuổi
Red envelopes are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as weddings or on holidays such as the Lunar New Year. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. The act of requesting for red packets is normally called (Mandarin): 討紅包, 要利是, (Cantonese): 逗利是. Red packets are usually given out by married couples to single people, especially to children.
The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs; odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. Still in some regions of China and in its diasporic community, odd-numbers are favored for weddings because they are difficult to divide. There is also a widespread tradition that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount, such as in 40, 400 and 444, as the pronunciation of the word "four" resembles that of the word "death" and thus signifies bad luck for many Chinese (See Numbers in Chinese culture).
At weddings, the amount offered is usually intended to cover the cost of the attendees as well as signify goodwill to the newlyweds, with appropriate amounts of $288 (pair + double joy) and $388 (birth + double joy).
During the Lunar New Year, mainly in Southern China, red envelopes are typically given by the married to the unmarried, most of whom are children. The amount of money is usually notes to avoid heavy coins and to make it difficult to judge the amount inside before opening. It is traditional to put brand new notes inside red envelopes and also to avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy.
In Vietnam, lì xì is lucky money and are typically given to children.
Red envelopes are also used to deliver payment for favorable service to lion dance performers, religious practitioners, teachers and doctors.
In China, during the Qin Dynasty, the elderly would thread coins with a red string. The money was called yāsuì qián (壓祟錢) meaning "money warding off evil spirits", and was believed to protect the elderly from sickness and death. The yāsuì qián was replaced by red envelopes when printing presses became more common and is now found written using the homophone for suì that means "old age" instead of "evil spirits" (壓歲錢). Red envelopes are also referred to as yāsuì qián.
Other similar traditions also exist in other countries in Asia. In Vietnam, red envelopes are called lì xì (similar to the Cantonese pronunciation "lai see") or, in some cases, phong bao mừng tuổi (happy new age envelope). In Thailand, they are known as ang pow (the pronunciation of the Chinese characters for "red envelope" in the Teochew dialect) or tae ea among the Chinese-Thai. In Myanmar (Burma), the Burmese Chinese refer to them as an-pao (Burmese: ), and South Korea's envelopes, which are white, not red, are called "sae bae don". In Cambodia, Chinese Cambodians refer to them as ang pao.
In Japan, a monetary gift called otoshidama is given to children by their relatives during the New Year period. However, white envelopes are used instead, with the name of the receiver written on its obverse. A similar practice, Shūgi-bukuro, is observed for Japanese weddings, but the envelope is folded rather than sealed, and decorated with an elaborate bow.
In the Philippines, Chinese Filipinos exchange ang pao (from the Hokkien pronunciation, as most tsinoy are of Hokkien descent) during the Chinese New Year. For non-Chinese Filipinos, ang paw (or ampaw) is an easily recognisable symbol of the Lunar New Year. Some Filipinos have already appropriated this custom for other occasions such as birthdays, and more specifically, in giving the aguinaldo during Christmas.
Malay Muslims in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore have adapted the Chinese custom of handing out monetary gifts in envelopes as part of their Eid al-Fitr (Malay: Hari Raya Aidilfitri) celebrations, but instead of red packets, green envelopes are used. Customarily a family will have (usually small) amounts of money in green envelopes ready for visitors, and may send them to friends and family unable to visit. Green is used for its traditional association with Islam, and the adaptation of the red envelope is based on the Muslim custom of sadaqah, or voluntary charity. While present in the Qur'an, sadaqah is much less formally established than the sometimes similar practice of zakat, and in many cultures this takes a form closer to gift-giving and generosity among friends than charity in the strict sense, i.e., no attempt is made to give more to guests "in need", nor is it as a religious obligation as Islamic charity is often viewed.
- Shūgi-bukuro, the Japanese wedding equivalent
- Chinese marriage
- Chinese social relations
- Color in Chinese culture
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