The Chinese New Year
Preparations for the new year often begins during the last month of the lunar year. It is an auspicious occasion, and great detail is taken in its readiness. The home must be cleaned thoroughly. The past year's dirt is swept away, and clutter is straightened out. This is done so that negative aspects of the past year is not brought forward to the new year. New clothes and new shoes are worn to usher in the new year. Special foods are carefully prepared.
On new year's eve, family members must return to the parent's home for a special meal together. Various foods are prepared and eaten because of their symbolic significance. The food must be abundant, and there must be some left over at the end of the meal. The new year will, therefore, start with plenty. It is hoped that there then will be abundance throughout the year.
At new year, people greet each other commonly with the phrase, "Gung Hay Fat Choy." In doing so, they are wishing each other congratulations and prosperity. Other salutations include "good health," "hope you make academic progress," "hope you get a promotion at work," and "congratulations and blessings for many children."
Almost always, families will call on relatives and friends to wish them a Happy New Year. There is an order to this visitation. The younger members of a family must visit with their elders. This is in deference to respect and piety. After "Gung Hay Fat Choy" is wished upon the elders, the elders in return give "lucky money" to the younger members.
Money that is placed into specially designed red envelopes is known as "lucky money." It is usually given by those who are married to their children, and to unmarried children of relatives and friends. Furthermore, while visiting the homes of relatives and friends, new year gifts are presented to the host or hostess. In return for the gifts, red "lucky money" envelopes are given.
The amount placed in the red envelope varies. One's own children may receive five or ten dollars, and children of casual acquaintances may receive one dollar. Without a doubt, children anticipate the arrival of Chinese New Year with great excitement. Givers of the red envelopes feel great as well. Furthermore, people who provide a regular service for the giver also may receive a red envelope. Such people may include newspaper carriers, regular delivery persons, mail carriers, or perhaps the children's teachers.
Red envelopes are not only limited to new year celebrations. "Lucky money" is often given throughout the year for weddings, birthdays, and graduations, just to name a few occasions. There are no limits to their uses.
Also, red envelopes are not restricted to the giving of money. They may be used to give special or precious trinkets such as coins or small pieces of sentimental jewellery.
The practice of giving red "lucky money" envelopes is a very important part of Chinese culture and people should always be prepared for any occasion. Chinese people are seldom without "lucky money" should unexpected visits by relatives and friends occur during the new year celebration.