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Red envelopes, firecrackers and astrology: Chinese New Year traditions

Patricia Lim
Jan 23rd, 2012

This year, Chinese New Year will open up the Year of the Dragon. Well-known Chinese New Year’s traditions include firecrackers, cash-filled red envelopes, and wearing the colour red.

Why do Chinatown store owners place cabbage or lettuce at the top of their doorways during Chinese New Year festivals? And what does the Year of the Dragon actually mean? 

Here's a brief explainer of the different Chinese New Year traditions:

Red envelopes

Cash-filled red envelopes or lai see are given by married couples and elders to children and the unmarried. The cash is always given in bills (preferably very clean, very crisp bills) and the amount of money is always in even numbers, since even numbers are considered more auspicious. In my family, the giving of red envelopes usually takes place at the dinner table; this is also traditionally the time when my grandmother loudly reminds everyone at the table of my unmarried status. Others might visit their extended relatives to exchange good wishes and receive more red envelopes.


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