Friday, February 7, 2014

Red Packets

When you're Asian, red packets are a welcomed sight. With it being Chinese New Year and all, we've gleefully dished out angpaos and bashfully received a few too.

It seems to be the season for giving with Christmas just over and Chinese New Year in full swing. Lets just take a walk through some Chinese tradition of angpao-giving.
Red envelopes are gifts presented at social and family gatherings such as weddings or on holidays such as the Chinese New Year. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
At a Chinese wedding, there is a table at the entrance of the wedding reception where guests give their red envelopes to attendants and sign their names on a large scroll. The attendants will immediately open the envelope, count the money inside, and record it on a register next to the guests’ names.
A record is kept of how much each guest gives to the newlyweds. This is done for several reasons. One reason is bookkeeping. A record insures the newlyweds know how much each guest gave and can verify the amount of money they receive at the end of the wedding from the attendants is the same as what the guests brought. Another reason is that when unmarried guests eventually get married, the bride and groom are typically obliged to give the guest more money than what the newlyweds received at their wedding.
If you go to a wedding, the money in the red envelope should be equivalent to a nice gift that would be given at a Western wedding. It should be enough money to cover the guest’s expense at the wedding.
The giving of ang pao has become the norm and it's become something that's expected at weddings.

Ang pao's are a predominantly Chinese tradition and I suppose the logic behind it was to make sure the newly weds were blessed with a little money to make a new beginning.

Coming from a non-chinese background, I always thought ang pao's were just and alternate option for people who didn't know how to buy gifts for weddings.

I guess growing up, I always attended Eurasian and Indian weddings where gift giving was the norm.

Jason had to patiently explain that ang pao's helped cover the cost of weddings for most people. But I still couldn't understand why anyone would choose to have a wedding without sufficient funds first in hand.

I believe that one should live and spend within means and not expect gifts but simply appreciate them if and when it comes. For me, throwing a wedding banquet was about having people come over to celebrate with us and join us in our journey. I didn't want my guests to be worrying about gifts and such or foregoing on the festivities just because they couldn't drop a red packet in the box.

Sadly, the culture we have today is such that people expect ang pao's.

I remember an instance many years ago, I was invited to a colleagues wedding but I couldn't make it that weekend. So before she went off on her honeymoon, I dug into my wallet and took out my last few notes. I had Rm65 and decided that I wanted to give her all I had on me. And so I put every note I had into a red packet and I handed it to her with well wishes and all.

A couple of years later, on my wedding night, a colleague passed me an envelope filled with a few red packets from those that couldn't make it to Melaka for the wedding but had passed ang pao's along. As I opened it and made notes of who to thank, I saw in one packet, I received RM68. One guess as to who that came from. :)

I couldn't help but laugh and I wondered about this whole gift giving thing. Are the stories true? Do some people make notes of who gave how much and make sure to return the same amount when the time comes?

Or do people give out of the abundance of their hearts?

In a way, this story has made me reevaluate my attitude when buying and giving gifts. It's okay to give easy and convenient gifts but it takes a whole lot more effort to give a meaningful gift. Don't get me wrong, ang pao's surely are meaningful too but what I'm trying to say is, do we give with the right attitude?

Do we think of weddings, as a drag and complain about being summoned? Do we dread having to buy tons of Christmas presents for the family and do we complain about having to give dozens and dozens of angpao's for CNY? Or do we really cherish the invitation and anticipate the celebration and the joy of giving?

We're always thankful to receive and we really appreciate all the gifts and ang pao's we received for our wedding as it did go a long way.

This whole season of giving has definitely made me take an attitude-check and I think I understand Chinese traditions better now. But I hope that as we grow and as our capacity to give does as well, we'll always remember to give with the right attitude and be always eager to bless un-begrudgingly.