Show Me The Money In Your Lunar New Year Envelope | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Show Me The Money In Your Lunar New Year Envelope

Play associated audio

Many Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and other Asian immigrant families are preparing to celebrate the Lunar New Year by filling small envelopes with money.

Exchanging cash gifts with relatives and friends is an annual holiday tradition that can test one's cultural knowledge and, sometimes, bank account.

Allen Kwai, 36, and Debbie Dai, 31, first met a decade ago during church choir practice in New York City's Chinatown. They finally tied the knot last October.

In traditional Chinese culture, that means they're now adults, and with adulthood comes certain financial responsibilities, including giving out money for Lunar New Year.

"We have church friends' kids and co-workers' children to give [Lunar New Year envelopes]," Dai says.

"And a lot of unmarried people, too!" her husband adds.

Thanksgiving Plus Christmas

For Kwai, Lunar New Year is Thanksgiving and Christmas wrapped into one. It brings together relatives they haven't seen all year for a Thanksgiving-like feast.

And, he says, "It's Christmas because the kids get money!"

The question facing the newlyweds is, exactly how much money should they give for the Lunar New Year?

It's a question Helen Koh, executive director of New York City's Museum of Chinese in America, has discussed with friends and colleagues who celebrate Lunar New Year.

"It can range from $10 to $20, maybe $50," explains Koh, who says she's even heard of Lunar New Year envelopes with just $1.

Koh says it all depends on who's giving and who's receiving — and, of course, how deep your pockets are.

All In The Numbers

Still, combine money with family and holiday rituals, and things can get awkward, especially across different generations.

"Anytime when these traditions come up," says Peggy Moy Mark, 34, a second-generation Chinese immigrant living in Chicago, "I'm always really nervous of whether I'm going to get it right."

Mark wasn't sure which dollar bills to put in her first round of Lunar New Year envelopes. But she knew the number matters, and she knew exactly whom to call for answers — her mother.

Doris Moy, Mark's mother, says in Chinese culture, giving and receiving money in even amounts is generally believed to bring good luck.

But she cautions, "We never use number four."

The number four, spoken in Chinese using a different tone, can easily sound like "to die" — not the kind of message you would want to send to a loved one at the beginning of a new year.

A better option, Moy says, would be the number eight, which in Chinese culture brings good fortune.

Saving Face

For their first Lunar New Year as newlyweds, Kwai and Dai have budgeted $500 for cash gifts to about 50 children, plus friends and family.

"I don't want to give too much to set a bad precedent," Kwai says. "But I also don't want to give too little [because] I don't want [relatives] to be like, 'Hey, cousin Allen is so cheap!' "

Kwai promises if you're close to him, he'll put a little extra in your envelope.

But he says, "If you're not, sorry, buddy!"

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Unsettling Tales Of Suburbia Echo Through 'The Night'

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steven Millhauser explores the intersection of small-town familiar life and the bizarre and supernatural in his new short story collection Voices in the Night.
NPR

This Robot Chef Has Mastered Crab Bisque

The system, a pair of robotic arms, learned to cook by mimicking the motions of a top chef. Even though it can't smell or taste, its maker says the robot should be able to make 2,000 meals by 2017.
WAMU 88.5

Morale Is Low Among Government Workers, But What Can Be Done?

Lawmakers are awaiting the results of a Government Accountability Office on low morale across federal agencies. But can Congress help fix a problem they played a large part in creating?

NPR

VW Camper Van Gets An Electric Makeover

Talk about a time warp! The iconic VW camper is getting a modern reboot. This time, it's electric.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.