LUCKY RED ENVELOPES (RED PACKETS)and THE COLOR OF RED

It's The Thought That Counts

 In fairy tales, the fairy Godmother can wave her magic wand and turn stone into gold, or a pumpkin into a beautiful carriage.  Past or present, in Chinese society the red envelope (red packets) is as good as a magic wand or a wand of hope.

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The red envelope ("Hong Bao"),  also known as lucky money (cash or check) holder, is like the Chinese wand of hope, and it often carries boundless blessings.  The lucky red envelope with money inside is given out to signify good fortune and good energy, especially when the money notes are crisp new notes with fresh new "chi" energy.  The amount of cash inside the red envelope is usually an even number.

To give a red envelope (red packets) at a happiness occasion, such as New Year's day, wedding, or birthday,  is like embroidering a flower on a quilt. To a person facing with misfortune, his/her receipt of a red envelope symbolizes psychological relief from pain and it just might change his/her luck.

The lucky red envelopes with auspicious designs can also be stuck on the desk, door, wall, cabinet, or any location where you would like to create the positive, Yang energy to help bring harmony and happiness.  It is one of the easiest and best ways to decorate your home and office.  Brightening your living space and workplace will also help brighten your mood.

Whether it be congratulations, encouragement, sympathy, gratitude, or compensation, giving a red envelope, not only will the sentiment be expressed, substantive help will also have offered. The fact that the red envelope opens so many doors and is so popular today is because it has practical advantages.  For marriages, funerals, birthdays, or illness, we  usually send a gift or a card to show our care.  But choosing a gift is an art in itself, and we can  spend a whole day shopping for a perfect gift, and we still won't know if the other person will like it or need it.  That's not nearly as good as giving a red envelope with money (cash or check) in it, which on the one hand saves time and on the other is practical, so everybody's happy. 

Traditionally, Chinese did not present gifts of money.  For example, when a child reached one month old, friends and relatives would send a gold locket.  When visiting a sick person, people would bring precious herbs. Upon meeting for the first time, people would exchange rings or jade as a greeting gift.

No one knows when money began to replace those traditional gifts.  The only certain of continuous using money to express sentiment -- perhaps the origin of the practice of combining usefulness and sentiment; material and spiritual -- is the tradition of the "Age suppressing money" (Ya Shui Chien) which cash stuffed in red envelope was given on New Year's day to children.  With the "age suppressing money" in their hands, children find Chinese New Year  the happiest time of all.  This tradition has been carried down to this day.  I remember when I was a child, my mother would place red envelope under my pillow on New Year Eve to signify a continuity of good luck from year to year. 

In the past, the New Year's money was simply a piece of red paper attached to a gold Yuan, or the use of a red twine to string together cash.  When eating dinner on New Year Eve, the money would be pressed beneath the stove, representing "a brilliant fire, abundant wealth;" only after dinner would it be pulled out and handed out to the small children.  The meaning was that, after undergoing a baptism of fire, it was hoped that it could expel evil, resolve dangers and bring good luck, so that the children (especially children suffering illness) could put the past behind them ("suppressing" the past) and grow up strong and healthy.  In fact, "age suppressing money" (Ya Shui Chien) should be called "age extension money."

It was only with the spread of paper currency that the New Year's money became paper cash placed in red envelopes.  The reason why the paper is red, or why in early days red thread was used, rather than white, green or black, is from religious rituals.

In primitive times, when man would see a bright red flower in a green field, he would find it quite eye-catching and delightful, so maybe this is why red is an "auspicious" color.  Further, red is the same as the color of blood, and since a sacrifice of blood has a lucky effect, red came to be ordained as having the meaning of avoiding misfortune.

Before the form of a red envelope appeared, people "carried red" to  ward off evil and bring blessings.  In older generations, people would attach a piece of red paper to a religious offering or to a wedding dress, in both cases it symbolized blessings and good luck. It was only after paper-cutting techniques have been invented that a piece of red paper was changed to the "double-happiness" character.  Before the paper was invented, perhaps they used red cloth or painted on some red pigment instead.

Many old Chinese say that the red envelope stuffed with "age suppressing money" is given to symbolize longevity for the one who gives it.  The Chinese believe that at New Year everyone becomes a year older.  So, giving children red envelope allows the older person to "borrow" the young "chi" from children, and in exchange, some lucky money is given in red envelope.  The more red envelope that are given to more children therefore, the more powerful will be the anti-aging effect of the tradition.

In the past, the red envelope was just a small, simple red packet, without any characters printed on it.  Today, the red envelopes come in different sizes and  designs  with a combination of  blessing words and  lucky symbols to wish you good fortune, great wealth and abundant happiness. The modern red envelopes with auspicious images are so beautiful that they are often placed on the appropriate place in the home or office to bring good Feng Shui, i.e. to help attract positive energy ("chi") for success and happiness. 

There are two most popular sizes of  red envleopes (red packets):  small ( 2.75" x 4.2") and large (3.5" x 7").  The large red envelope can hold the entire cash bills without folding it, and small treasure items, such as rings or necklaces.

Today, the red envelope is being used in many different occasions as a congratulatory gift for all manner of auspicious events, such as a New Year's gift given by adults to children, as a gift from wedding guests, as an expression of a boss' appreciation to his employees, or as a gift attending a celebration event.   

No matter how much money is in the red envelope, how can a few pieces of paper currency take the place or outweight the feelings in one's heart?  A small amount of cash given with a big heart, the act of giving and receiving, and the mutual affection are the real meanings of giving a red envelope

Over time, the practice of giving red envelope stuffed with lucky money  has flourished, becoming popular amongst Chinese all over the world.  For business people, especially in service-oriented business, they like to receive their consultant fee inside red envelope, for it will bring good luck for both parties.  The Chinese believe that the red envelope will bring good luck to the person who receives it AND to the person who gives it.  The more you give out, the more luck comes back to you. 

(12/25/2004)

THE COLOR OF RED

The Chinese have known it since forever, so it has always been the major color at the start of each New Year, during weddings, at happy celebration occasions and to contain money when giving it as gifts to one's loved ones.  Red Envelopes/Red Packets (or Hong Bao) are always red in color.  So when anyone wants extra lucks in their lives, this is the color they call on.  The color of red is the purest Yang and signifies the Fire element whose energy rises upwards, brings fame, attracts a good name and welcomes honor into your life....so it is the all-time lucky color!

Some western scientists in compiling statistics the western ways are also saying it --  that red is the color of victory.  They point to the fact that red is the color worn by the football teams that have dominated the game.  Those who wear red tops, jackets or clothing score 10 percent more in any competition than those wearing any other color.  But the scientists explain that this is because red makes individuals and teams feel more confident; and that helps them intimidate the opposing side.  Others look on them as being more aggressive, and more likely to win.  More than a winning color, red is also an intimidating color.

Did you know that ripe red apples have the power to dissolve disharmony in the home, bring peace and help disintegrate all hostility in the family?  One of the best displays to create on your dining table or on your coffee table in the living area is a bowl of red apples.  It is much better when they are fresh but if apples are not your favorite fruits, you can shop around for realistic looking fake apples.

The Chinese word for apples is 'Ping Gor' which sounds like the word peace.  This fruit thus symbolizes peace.  The color red meanwhile signifies Fire element energy, which exhausts the Wood element that personifies quarrelsome vibes.  All hostile behavior, quarrelsome acts or negativities are associated with the Wood element, which can thus be kept under control with Fire energy.  So,  the color red has the power to subdue aggressive hostility.  Red apples are  very potent fruits.  Remember the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away!"

(11/29/09)