New Year's Gift Money Custom

With the Spring Festival comes a dizzying multitude of Chinese New Year's Day traditions. Here are a few tips to help expats navigate sans faux pas through the holiday.

This year's Spring Festival falls on February 12. Expats may be invited to their Chinese neighbour's homes during this national day.

Chinese people are famous for their hospitality and visitors are cordially received.

For respected guests, Chinese housewives with superb culinary skills whip up traditional dishes. And their husbands entertain with wines and cigarettes.

A knowledge of Yasuiqian, the traditional presenting of gift money, will help both parties participate in the custom. During the Spring Festival, senior members of a Chinese family are accustomed to giving money as a lunar New Year gift to the younger generation, including toddlers, pre-school children and elementary students. Gift money is also given to children of close friends or neighbours.

Elderly Chinese believe that giving gift money to children on Chinese New Year's Eve is a kind deed and shows their goodwill and invokes the blessing of the gods.

The biggest reward is prolonged lifespan because each sum of gift money represents one year. The more gift money they give to children, the longer they will live.

Expats visiting Chinese families during the New Year's celebration should follow the same custom.

The amount of each sum of gift money depends on the relationship of the visitors with the parents of the children. The closer the relationship between expats and their neighbours, the more money they should give.

In most cases, gift money ranges from 100 yuan (US$ 12) to 500 yuan (US$ 60).

If the children are junior secondary school students, gift money is nor required. However, there are exception to such a tradition.

Visitors may insist on giving gift money if they are particularly close to their neighbours. Neighbours will surely be delighted with the propitious pronouncement: "Study hard! You'll have a bright future and bring honour to your parents."

The last suggestion is that it is best to put the cash into a red envelop before presenting it to children because the colour red is the symbol of happiness and good luck.

(Beijing Weekend February 5, 2002)