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Legend of the Hongbao

A legend that lies behind behind the custom of giving the 红包 "hongbao"

01·29·2014

Legend of the Hongbao

A legend that lies behind behind the custom of giving the 红包 "hongbao"

01·29·2014

When you live in China for a while Spring Festival is all about the 红包 (hóngbāo), which translates as red envelope or red packet.  This monetary gift given during New Year (Spring Festival) or other special occasions like weddings or births is typically adorned with gold characters that symbolize good luck, health, wisdom, or prosperity. Red represents luck, energy, and brightness in Chinese tradition and is also believed to protect against evil. But there an interesting story behind this little red envelope.

In ancient China, there was an evil fairy called Sui (the word, 祟, means evil by ghosts and bad spirits). It was said that this evil Sui was totally black except for his hands, which were colorless. He was known to appear every Chinese New Year’s Eve during the night touch a sleeping child’s head three times. The child would cry loudly, then he would get a headache, fever, and begin talking in its sleep. After the demon left, a child would become mentally handicapped. As a result, parents would stay up all night to guard their children. Today, Chinese celebrate New Year’s Eve by staying up late—it’s called 守岁(shǒusuì), or “waiting for Sui.”

One family in Jiaxing, Jiangsu cherished their son dearly. One New Year’s Eve, the parents wrapped copper coins in red paper to entertain their son and keep him awake.  Eight fairies heard the family’s prayers and drew the demon’s attention by turning themselves into eight coins. The parents wanted to protect the child so they placed the eight coins on their infant’s pillow. By dawn, they had succumbed to their sleepiness and slept.

When everybody had  fallen asleep, the evil fairy Sui appeared. He walked toward the boy’s bed, reaching his colorless hands out to the sleeping child’s forehead. Just then, beams of golden light burst out from the red paper, and the Sui was scared away.

The story spread through the village, and everyone began to wrap coins in red paper to protect their children. As time went by, hongbao ceased to serve as a protector from evil spirits; it became a symbol of best wishes and blessings for children.

With that, we here at TWOC wish you all a Happy Spring Festival and a big, fat hongbao.

 Image courtesy of 高鑫天麓微博 on Weibo