The Chinese New Year red packet, the angpow has a way of making everyone happy and joyful — including me. But in case you might be wondering, there are two stories often told about how this Chinese New Year angpow (or hóngbāo, 紅包) originated.

The first is the ya sui qian (压祟钱), which means money to ward off evil spirits. The traditional belief from the old folks’ tale stated that the gold coins were put in a red packet to chase away Sui, a demon who caused the death of children.

The second story is quite compelling as well. It is about a young orphan who managed to kill an undefeatable dragon-like demon during the Song dynasty. The villagers were so delighted they presented him with a red pouch filled with money as a token of gratitude.

The angpow has been given out for thousands of years. It symbolises goodwill, luck and prosperity.

However, is “inherited tradition” a strong enough reason to make a practice last even longer? Or, is there a more valuable insight that we perhaps have overlooked?

Let’s look beyond the accustomed perspective, from the act of giving to the art of giving, shall we?

1. Give to the younger on Chinese New Year so that they, too, will give.


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To raise a great man, his character should be nurtured since his younger years.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the parents will prepare the angpow for their children.

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Some might argue that the significant point of giving the angpow is the red-coloured paper and not the content inside, i.e. sharing the happiness and blessings.

But people, especially the younger children, are undoubtfully fond of the “gold” inside.

We do, too!

Either way, they will grow up carrying the joyful feeling and happiness from receiving the angpow. This will indirectly instil the habit of generosity in their hearts coupled with the nurturing of empathy towards someone who benefits from the act of giving. This will then become a great internal push for them to keep giving.

Give someone an angpow, that someone will give angpow to others. It is a domino’s effect —a chain of continuous good deeds, isn’t it?

2. Our precious time is a prominent source of happiness. Give it to those who deserve it during this Chinese New Year’s celebration!

do good chinese new year family gathering giving happiness

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As our elders age with each passing year, nothing brings them more happiness than when their children and relatives are gathering during the Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Time and family are two precious treasures, and our time spent with family is inevitably priceless. Giving our time is one humbling act of giving, especially for those trapped in the circle of life-draining careers.

As we celebrate this festive season with our colleagues and spread happiness wrapped in red papers, we have to be generous with our time too.

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Plan our work and spare a sufficient amount of time to come home. Create a beautiful moment together with them.

Be there for the reunion dinner, have the greatest meal of the year with the greatest people in our life. For they are the garden of happiness and blessings that were bestowed upon us throughout our lives.

3. Chinese New Year is nothing without the festive mood in the neighbourhood. It is the perfect time to give to society.

do good chinese new year decoration lantern give to society

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Giving to society during this Chinese New Year isn’t necessarily restricted to deeds in the form of money (although the cost to hang the red and gold lanterns along the street has to come from someone’s pocket too!).

Prior to the festive day, the house is swept and cleaned thoroughly. Dead plants are thrown away, everything inside the drawers are sorted, and broken items are disposed off properly.

Bright red decorations are set up: the yuanbao, the woodblock prints, the inverted character of fú (福, good fortune) on a diamond-shaped paper, and many more.

Although the belief from this act is centred on sweeping away bad luck in the upcoming year, this act inadvertently results in a clean and uncluttered neighbourhood. You may think the benefit is only for you and your house, but in actuality, the impact encompasses a greater benefit.

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Imagine how stressful it is to be living in a neighbourhood with improper waste management: the sight of the houses in a neighbourhood with messy lawns.

Imagine if this tradition were never there, would some people even bother to tidy up their personal space?

Angpow: a great lesson wrapped in red paper.

Behind the philosophy and symbolic tradition of sharing happiness and blessings by giving the angpow, we are also subtly teaching people to give generously.

That is one fine lesson, wrapped in a paper of red and gold — the colour that symbolises prosperity.

We yearn for prosperity not only during the Chinese New Year’s celebration but also throughout the upcoming years.

Apart from that, the golden lesson from the tradition of giving angpow encourages us extrinsically to practice the value of generosity all the time, and towards all people too.

Giving and sharing happiness shouldn’t be limited to only a few specific days of celebration and a red envelope. That celebration and angpow should become a starting point for us to practice and emulate the good values behind the giving of angpow.

We seek prosperity, good luck and blessings from this festive of scarlet. Beyond the traditions and symbols, these wishes are granted as we grow to become a virtuous people from appreciating the lessons behind it.

Who would have thought of that?

do good angpow lesson crafting virtuous people

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