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The significance of the Chinese New Year Lai See

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To get CNY off to the right start, you need to give lai see, and you have 15 days to do so. This year’s celebrations run from February 5 to February 20, and this is the time to hand out those little red packets.

When giving lai see, the first thing to bear in mind is that it’s not a tip or a year-end bonus. It’s a blessing. “In Chinese, lai see can be written 利是, 利事 or 利市, with each pronounced the same way. The character 利 means ‘good for’ or ‘smooth,’ 是/事 refers to ‘things’ or ‘matters,’ and 市 refers to ‘the market’ or ‘business.’ So together, lai see is a wish of good luck, for everything to go smoothly or for one’s business to be good,” explains Kate Zhou director of Yifan Mandarin.

“The Chinese believe that luck is a two-way street,” Kate adds. ”So the more luck you give to others, the more luck you will receive. The quantity inside each lai see packet is irrelevant. Bigger amounts do not equal to bigger luck.”

It’s also important to give lai see personally. “In some buildings management has a lai see fund to which tenants and owners contribute, but this turns the luck-giving into a materialistic exercise. The giving of lai see is meant to be a joyous act of spreading good cheer and best wishes, and you do it yourself,” Kate explains. “It’s like sending Christmas cards or throwing confetti at a wedding.”

Importantly, children should not give lai see, they receive only. “More egregious than over giving is having your children hand out lai see, especially when giving to service staff,” says Kate. “It isn’t cute – it is inappropriate and insulting.

“There is an order to lai see giving:  older to younger, married to non-married, or between people of the same generation,” Kate adds. Kung Hei Fat Choy!

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