Sure, if you’re raking in lai see every year, there may be no need to ask questions — but those little red packets mean more than just cash money. Come Chinese New Year, the color red is literally everywhere, from gifts to lanterns, fireworks to flower markets, paper cuttings to door gods.
You can’t escape it, and according to traditional Chinese beliefs, you really don’t want to! Red equals prosperity in Chinese culture, so naturally, all that annual dough comes perfectly packed in red envelopes. It also means happiness and good luck, hence why you always see it as the color of choice for weddings and celebrations.
So far we have prosperity, happiness and good luck, but that’s not all: red also embodies the natural element of fire, so it’s meant to recharge and energize people. That’s why people use the color red in firecrackers and set them off during Chinese New Year — they want to ward off Nian, a beast that lives in the mountains or the sea and comes out during CNY to attack people.
But luckily, loud noises and the color red can ward off the beast. So remember to thank your por por next time she hands you a red packet — it’s stuffed with way more than just money.