Lai see are traditional Chinese New Year gifts. But what are the rules to giving and receiving these little packets of joy?
Lai see, or little red envelopes of cash, are handed out during the first 15 days of the Lunar new year, so from Friday February 16 this year.
They are handed out from parent to child, boss to staff and to those who provide a service for us, including building concierge, cleaners, hairdressers, waiters, baristas and domestic helpers. Don’t let children hand lai see to older people, as this is considered rude.
It’s worth keeping a few envelopes to hand for the Chinese New Year period containing varying denominations. Lai see should be offered the first time that you see a person during the Chinese New Year period.
In ancient China, red strings of 100 copper coins were given, symbolising longevity. The idea is similar to the Western tradition of offering a bonus or tip in the lead up to Christmas.
Each envelope should contain just one, crisp, ideally unused banknote. The lai see packets should also be new. When giving or receiving lai see, use both hands as a demonstration of respect and wish the person a hearty ‘Gong hey fat Choy!’
Worried about how much to offer? Recommended amounts include $20 for building or service staff (concierge, waiters, etc.), $50-$100 for a regular hairdresser or manicurist, up to $500 for domestic helpers, and up to $1,000 for work staff if you’re the boss, depending on role and seniority. If you’re going to a Chinese New Year gathering, take packets containing a $20 note to hand out to any children.
Lai see packets can be found all over town, including from stationery shops, banks and supermarkets. Often they are given away free – these are fine to use, too.