#GoneOrOn Red Packets
📷 : Children paying respect to their grandmother and receiving red packets from her in return. 1983, Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.
There is a mythical element in the red packet (also known as hong bao in Mandarin, or ang pow in Hokkien): the significance lies in the red paper, which symbolises good luck and health, prosperity and happiness.
The story goes that the demon Sui had terrorised children on the eve of Chinese New Year and, to save their son, two parents placed eight coins wrapped in red paper under his pillow. Sui was then driven away by the Eight Immortals who had disguised themselves as the coins. The practice of giving money wrapped in red paper or cloth became known as ya sui qian in Chinese, which means “money for suppressing Sui”.
In Singapore, the giving and receiving of a red packet is a gesture of appreciation and symbolic of the close bonds that people share. On the eve of CNY or the day itself, it is customary for children and grandchildren to convey best wishes to their parents and grandparents who would in turn give red packets to them as a form of blessings. Adult children or grandchildren who are employed or married also give their parents and grandparents red packets in appreciation for their upbringing. Hence, part of the CNY “tradition” here involves joining long queues at banks to get new or fit-for-gifting notes to fill the red packets.
Singapore’s red packet “rules” include: gifting money in even numbers, as good things come in pairs. Red packets are given and received with both hands. Young children are taught to clasp their hands in front of their chest and offer CNY greetings to the elders, such as “Gong Xi Fa Cai!” (which means abundant wealth in the new year). It is considered rude to open up red packets in front of the elders so children who do that are chastised by their parents, but nobody gets really upset because the rowdiness add to the festive cheer.
In the last two years, digital disruption to tradition became more apparent as electronic red packets rose in popularity in Singapore, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic restricted physical gatherings. An electronic red packet is convenient and eliminates the need to carry around physical cash but some may feel that paper red packets show more respect and sincerity. Now that physical gatherings are back, are physical ang pows #GoneOrOn?
#Singapore #chinesenewyear #lunarnewyear