Giving out lucky money to children is a traditional activity in Tet. Although the way people celebrating Tet holiday has changed through the years, this activity is still an essential part of Vietnamese lunar New Year.
Tet is the time for family reunion. No matter how far away from their relatives, children always find their way back home to visit their grandparents and parents in order to enjoy the heart-warming holiday together. On the very first day of the lunar New Year, adults and children will wear newly bought clothes, prepared specifically for the special occasion. And, of course, lucky money will be given to the children in every family.
This tradition has existed since before anyone can remember, originating in China. Legend has it that a monster always appears on New Year’s eve. It is said to touch children’s heads and reduce their intellect. This old fable explains why people who have young kids often stay up all night with them to offer their protection. It also explains the origin of lucky money. And yet, the origination of such a fable should be explained in more depth.
Long ago, an old couple had given birth to a boy. As the New Year arrived, 8 fairies crept upon the young child and knew, immediately, he may be harmed by a monster. As such, they transformed themselves into 8 bronze coins that the parents then wrapped in a red sheet of paper and placed next to the boy’s pillow. When the monster came, the shiny coins scared it away. The legend is passed from mouth to mouth and since then, people have given children money in a small red paper packet. This activity gradually became a custom that has existed until now. We call this lucky money ”lì xì.”
Though, it should be noted, Lucky Money doesn’t have to be given within the first day of the lunar year. Anyone can offer it anytime within the first ten days of the lunar year.
The red envelope itself has many functions. First, the envelope keeps the amount money inside secret so the children won’t be jealous of each other if their lucky money is not the same, thereby avoiding unnecessary conflict. The red color is a symbol for good fortune, wealth, and a beneficial year. Additionally, it is the color of hope and luck. Those who receive lucky money believe that this red envelope will bring them happiness and wealth all year long. Moreover, lì xì is used as a gift for ones neighbors and is used to strengthen connections on behalf of a greeting, a wish for health and the prosperous year ahead.