“This is my personal gift to the two of you.” I present the small red envelope with the golden characters with both hands and for a moment my Sihing becomes more serious. He accepts the gift and carefully stows it in his jacket. It is a solemn moment, however short and inconspicuous it may be.
I have congratulated my Sihing on his wedding, just as I would have done with any person who is important to me. The book that I produced with the help of my classmates is as silly a gift as it would have fit anywhere. Lai Si – lucky money – however I only give within this very special family.
There is no exact prescribed shape for Lai Si envelopes (Leisi, Hongbao, Angpow, Lishi, Leisi, etc.). It is important that they are red, because red is the color of happiness. Ornaments are usually in gold or yellow. The content, i.e. the amount of money, is not chosen arbitrarily, but originates from Chinese numerology.
And when do you give Lai Si?
Traditional occasions for this are the Chinese New Year, weddings or the Lion Dance – but basically you can give Lai Si on any important occasion. Within the Kung Fu family it is not least usual to give back the financial expenses to the family member who organizes a festival. One then gives at least as much Lai Si as one has approximately consumed. However, the family also supports each other. Richer members give more than poorer ones, which then balances itself out again.
Lai Si can be given in all directions. So it is not reserved for the Sifu or the older siblings. Just as well I could give Lai Si to every member of my family. It is not obligatory. Lai Si is not a compulsion but a gift.
The history of lucky money goes far back into the past. I have found two different versions of the origin myth. Both are about the fact that you had to protect yourself against a monster.
One is as follows and is said to originate from the Qin Dynasty (618 – 907): There was a monster called Sui, which crept up on sleeping children at New Year’s Eve. If it touched them, they began to scream and got terrible headaches. But the red envelope and the golden writing worked against Sui. So it was put under the pillow and the child was safe.
Another story comes from the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279): A village was threatened by a huge demon. Nobody could defeat him until a young man with a magic sword reached the village. He killed the demon, whereupon he was given a red envelope with money as a token of gratitude.
Lai Si Today
Since 2014 WeChat has opened the possibility to give away digital Lai Si, this possibility is used actively.