All over Hong Kong now envelopes are being given out. There are trees decorated with little red and gold envelopes. What are these envelopes? They are Lai See, sometimes called red packets; traditional Chinese gifts of money that signify prosperity and good luck for the coming year.
Lai See envelopes are traditionally gold or red. They are sold all over Hong Kong at this time of year and many stores and companies give them out. They can be beautiful and intricate art pieces with specific symbols for the particular year. This year because valentines day fell so close to CNY many lai see had hearts and also, of course, many had sheep, ram and goats.
There are lots of customs on how these envelopes are given out the customs are as if not more important than the amount. This is not necessarily a tip for good service, it is a wish of good fortune. A traditional wish requires etiquette, how do you wish a person good luck for the following year? Follow these steps and the people of Hong Kong will be grateful:
- Amount: A single bill in each packet is expected in each packet, $20, $50, $100. Multiple packets can be given but never in multiple of 4 nor should $40 or $400 ever be given. Four in Cantonese means death and that does not signify good fortune! Ideally new bank notes should be given, however if not available do the best you can, collecting your cleanest bills. Give as much as you wish, the amount is not as important as the sentiment.
- Who to give to: Lai See is given from the old to the young. Parents to children and sometimes friends children, married adults to single adults and management to their staff. Any service personnel is also given Lai See; whether id be household management, hairdressers, tutors, etc. It usually would not be given to people there is no ongoing relationship with so not to a waiter in a restaurant.
- How to give and receive : Lai See is given with two hands. While giving your red envelopes, people say, “Kung Hei Fat Choi,” may you prosper, Happy New Year is also acceptable. Lai See is received as it is given, with two hands, a slight bow of the head and the same sentiment said to you is repeated. “Kung Hei Fat Choi.”
- When to give: Lai See is given from the first day of Chinese New Year until the 15th
Kung Hei Fat Choi, Hope you have a happy year of the Sheep.