Ang Pows

Red packets ^_^

During Chinese New Year, married couples have to distribute red packets filled with money to single people and children. If you visit your Chinese friend during Chinese New Year and the fifteen days after it (some clans only celebrate for nine days), you might get one, if he or she is married of course.

So, why do married couples have to distribute money during that time of the year? Why red packets? I was taught stories, which are myths that contribute to ang pows (red packets) being given to children during the first days of the year. Children, you say, single people might not be children; well, to Chinese, as long as you are not married you are still a child!

Red, the colour that Nian, a mythical beast hated. It liked to roam around villages during the New Year, looking for tasty children to fill its empty belly before it hibernates for the year. Nian loves children for their tender meat, but hates red colour and loud noises. Villagers had lost a few kids before they realized this fact; then every year when Nian is supposed to show, everyone wore red color clothing. 

When Nian turned up that year, it was horrified! Red was everywhere, and to top it off, the villagers popped fire crackers to generate loud noises. Terrified and upset, Nian ran off to another village; only to face the same situation. Nian disappeared into the mountains and was never seen again. 

Buoyed by their success, the villagers kept the practice to keep Nian from returning one day. When it was a bad season and red cloth was scarce, parents would give red colored paper to their children to ward of Nian. The practice of popping fire crackers is still popular to ward off evil influences, particular during New Year or when a new business is started.

The money in the red packet came much later, and the reason is simple: adults (married people only) give money to children (unmarried people) to steal their age. Yes, money is used to exchange some bits of youth to prolong life, apparently. Although we all know it does not work nowadays, it is still an important tradition. Although now, the giver usually cites things like to be safe and enjoy prosperity for the whole year.

Giving red packets is a very old tradition in Chinese culture; it ranks high up with no arguing, no sweeping floors and no scolding. As a kid, I loved Chinese New Year: it means all the mischief and soft drinks I can have without getting into trouble. Parents are more indulgent, the mood is good around the place.

What other traditions during New Year that you have in your culture?