Happy New Year of the Ram!

It’s the second day of Chinese New Year. We’ve stepped into a new zodiac year, the year of the Ram/Goat/Sheep. Wishing everyone much health, happiness and prosperity! If you’ve any Chinese relatives or friends, or you’re Chinese yourself you will know what the new year entails. It’s a time for money. Hard earned cash given away and accepted in pockets of red. Stashes and stashes of them. It’s good to be a kid! It’s good to be single! Because if you’re married you must be the one to give. And if you’re a kid or single you get to receive.

Money isn’t just handed out – it must be folded nicely into red packets and given away with ideally, two hands. The one accepting the red packet (lai see, or, hong bao) is supposed to well-wish the giver. My standard phrases are wishing one health, happiness, success and peace. The locals say it really quickly – as a child I prided myself in saying a series of wishes all under one breath and a huge smile.

Show me da money!

Show me da money!

If you’re married – you’ll be forking out thousands of dollars giving out money to people you hardly see and some people you hardly know 🙂 It’s different when you’re giving it out to close relatives, especially the little ones you really like. But it’s a different thing when you’re expected to give it to every one in your building that happens to cross your path, or works for you under some capacity. Giving and receiving is an art in itself – if you’re receiving you want to be noticed because you don’t want anyone to miss you out. But it must also not appear to be too forced or fake. And if you’re giving you want to make sure you cover everyone so as to be fair. But if there are say, 10 receptionists and 10 cleaners working in your building it’s sometimes hard to keep track of everyone!

I don’t really know when this tradition started, but it seems to be a time for a slight redistribution of wealth. Parents give their kids red packets as pocket money, so that ideally they start a saving habit since a young age. Bosses give their workers red packets. Relatives of higher order (more senior by age and by status) are supposed to give to lower status/younger relatives. So you will see plenty of old men and women with stashes of red packets to give away – to everyone that visits her home during Chinese New Year. The lower status you are, the more you have to go visit other higher relatives’ homes. My mom would bring us to visit her older brother, and her older brother would go visit another older brother, and they would all go visit their mother, since their mother is superior by status to all her children. Age, in Chinese culture, often translates to automatic respect.

It’s a lot of fun – visiting people’s homes. Most of the time you realise that nothing has changed – the home has the exact same furnishings and wall colour throughout the years you’ve visited. Sometimes – you get a pleasant surprise – someone’s home just got refurbished and you get a fresh breath of air. I suspect, the reason that the homes I visit never change much, is because most of these houses belong to older people. When you’re older, you have less energy and fewer resources to remodel your home. Many old people I know have been so comfortable living in the cramped quarters of their apartment, hosting the same discoloured walls and cluttered bookshelves. I suspect familiar, unchanged surroundings brings forth a sense of belonging. Sometimes the lack of change is not by choice.

Age is a sensitive topic. My dad always reminds us to go every year, to visit our elderly relatives, because “one more year is one more year”. What he really means is that you never know when this year will be the last. I missed out on seeing a granduncle forever because the one year I was traveling and away from home for the new year, he passed away. What happens, happens. Can’t live life fearing what you’re about to lose. But dad’s words rang in my ears. Cherish every moment and every person.

I think that’s the true spirit of Chinese New Year. You see relatives and friends whom you wouldn’t  normally see throughout the year. To catch up, to wish each other well. To start anew. To pass on blessings. To cook and prepare a feast together and welcome all the different generations of kin under one roof. That, is why I love this holiday so much.

And yes, I still get to receive red packets without giving any out yet!

What about you? What holiday season or festival you do you love most? 

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15 comments on “Happy New Year of the Ram!

  1. I also wonder where the red packet giving tradition started. In general, it’s the married couples or married people who give out red packets. If you’re single, expect to receive an ang pow. If you’re in a relationship, then you’re supposed to be the one forking out the cash in notes, never coins because that is supposed bad luck. In a sense, it’s a hierarchy thing – that two is better than one. As a married couple, you would be expected to have a joined income and so have more money to give away.

    I love how lively Chinese New Year celebrations are, all the lion dances and reunion dinners. But I was always terribly bored going house visiting. My parents would drag me and my brother to their relatives or friends house and as my parents chatted, the two of us would sit quite stoned in front of the TV watching some Chinese sing-song program. However, we were always served lollies and New Year goodies, and we always barely had room for dinner 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not done yet. Jumped the gun and pushed ‘Reply’ a tad too quick! Happy Lunar New Year, Pixie. Kung Hei Fatt Choi, San Nin Fai Lok. Have a prosperous Year of the Goat, and wishing you and your family well 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do that sometimes too 🙂
        Happy Lunar New Year too Mabel! May this year bring you and your family much personal growth, good health, happiness and much peace! I love the year of the goat, it’s so cute and fluffy!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mabel! Yes it does seem like the concept behind it – the joining of two people and therefore more resources? What’s an ang pow? Is that a Mandarin or Malaysia vocab? Sorry I didn’t get it the first time 🙂
      I guess it is the Chinese obsession with “double” too – double happiness, celebrating couples, liking even numbers when it comes to happy events. Everything is better in two – that’s definitely the Chinese mentality. So the thinking behind giving red packets could also be that couples are kind of ‘sharing’ their fortune and blessing? Not a very politically correct way to think about things – because nowadays we celebrate individualism and it’s more ok to be single and stay that way. I guess that’s why Chinese New Year is a time of celebration, but it could also be a bit tough for single people sometimes – especially when it comes to big-mouthed, insensitive relatives asking you for the nth time when are you bringing your girlfriend/boyfriend along to family dinner!

      Yes coins aren’t very lucky – although I remember a long time ago I used to get chocolate gold coins in red packets! Have you ever come across those? They’re rare and are ‘looked down’ upon, but I always liked a bit of chocolate.

      I felt the same way about those visits. I would nibble at all the food and be on my best behaviour while my parents chatted away. I watched the same boring programmes on TV too – and never had an appetite for dinner. Seems like our stories are quite similar 🙂

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      • Ang pow means red packet. I think it has Tagalog or Filipino origins but it’s a terms used everywhere in Malaysia and Singapore. So true. The Chinese like double everything as it’s deemed auspicious. Also, even numbers are auspicious, and it’s probably why they tend to give out ten, twenty, fifty dollar red packets during the new year.

        I do remember a few of my relatives giving me chocolate gold coins in red packets! When I was a kid living in Malaysia, I’d get a fair amount of red packets (around 50-100). My parents always wanted to know which relative gave how much money to me. Bit of a pride thing, perhaps 😀

        We certainly have a lot in common, Pixie 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • Haha Mabel my parents sometimes did that too – interested to know how much relatives gave. Thing is the closer the relatives usually gave more – not that money equals love but I find in Chinese culture, how much wealth is given away often corresponds to the closeness of the relationship.

          We do have a lot in common! It’s so cool to read about your experiences but find similarities although we are an ocean away.

          Thanks for teaching me new vocab! Ang must mean red then – as in Mandarin it’s “hong bao” which is similar to “ang pow” in sound. I get it now 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This New Year we didnt give any red pockets around. Though we were at many Chinese homes during the past days (also the reason why we couldnt even watch yet the New Year Gala) we did not even see any red pockets. But I believe it is more due to the fact that we are still new here around and got to get into the “group” of Chinese in this town 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, It was so interesting to read all about the Chinese new year. I never had much information about it, this sound like so much fun. The concept of giving children money and giving receiving bears a great similarity to our Eid festival. This was an awesome read Pixie, thanks for sharing about your heritage and traditions.

    Happy Lunar New Year, with love and prosperity.
    Zee ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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