Red envelopes

3 Jan

Chinese people are very practical.

At weddings, instead of gifts chosen from a list of matching china and household goods, every guest is required to provide a red envelope full of money.  Red is the color of luck and prosperity and from a practical perspective, each guest is at least required to include enough money in the envelope to pay for the dinner that they eat that night as well as a little extra that can be used by the bride and groom to start their life together.

The first wedding I attended in China I wasn’t clued in to this custom and I used a white envelope (with the requisite cash) instead.  I remembered being very nervous that my amount was not appropriate, and not thinking at all about the envelope.  White envelopes are traditionally used at funerals, but my Chinese friends were very gracious and after the wedding we all had a good laugh.  Since then, I have made sure that I always have a couple of spare red envelopes and I even made sure to give one to my coworker before I went on holiday for Christmas as I knew her wedding was while I was on vacation.

Similarly, at Chinese New Year, instead of giving presents, parents and grandparents give the children red envelopes full of cash (the 100 RMB note is also conveniently colored red) which are then tucked away by the parents to purchase practical things throughout the year.

I understand that this is the way the culture works here, but it is one of those things that I’m still “not accustomed to.”  I view the art of picking out the perfect present for someone for Christmas or buying a gift for newlyweds as fun – I like to think about how people will thread it into their lives and hopefully occasionally think of me as they wear, read, view or use the gift.

How practical are you?  Given the chance – would you give a “red envelope?”

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2 Responses to “Red envelopes”

  1. valerie January 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    I struggle with gift giving. I sometimes get stuck on what that “perfect” gift could be. What is the thing the reciptient needs/wants and they don’t how much they’ve needed or wanted it just yet? Giving cash is easy and unpersonal but it sounds like giving the red envelope has different/positive connotation than just handing over a wad of money.

    I will say though, your wedding gift to Pat and I was perfect, beautiful and very thoughtful and we will always appreciate the set. Thank you!

  2. Christa January 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I can tell you who gave me every single pair of socks I own and why they gave them to me (speaking of which, yesterday I wore the peace and slug bug socks you gave me before I moved to CA; they are coming close to the end of their life though…). While it can be nice to get money sometimes, I am always a little bit disappointed. I like to carry the people I love with me via the gifts they give, and I lose track when it’s just money. An interesting tradition though! Question: Do you put your name on the envelope, or are they all anonymous?

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