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拜年” and “压岁钱” in Chinese Spring Festival

Chinese Spring Festival, Chinese red envelope

An important activity during the Spring Festival is 拜年 (bài nián) – to pay a New Year visit, starting from the lunar New Year's Day. It is said that the earlier people pay the visits, the more sincere he/she is; and since getting up early on that day symbolizes a good head start, one hears door knocking and sees children running around with new clothes as early as the crack of dawn!

One says 工作顺利 (gōng zuò shùn lì) and 万事如意 (wàn shì rú yì) to wish working people a smooth career path and great success.

One says 恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái) to people who do business, wishing them great fortune and prospects.

One says 身体健康 (shēn tǐ jiàn kāng) and 学习进步 (xué xí jìn bù) to children and students, wishing them a good health, and higher achievements in their studies.

The first visit is always to family, especially when multiple generations live together under one roof. Everyone starts off their New Year by wishing joy and blessings, 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè) and 恭喜恭喜 (gōng xǐ gōng xǐ) before people head out to visit neighbors and friends. When visiting families and relatives, the younger generation always calls on their elders first, wishing them 健康长寿 (jiàn kāng cháng shòu) – "Good health" and "Long life." Then the elders offer "红包" (hóng bāo or red envelopes) filled with money in return to wish them good luck – the most favorite tradition among the Chinese young people.

Then what is the story behind "the red envelopes?" It is said that once upon a time, there was a little monster called "祟" (suì), who made children sick by climbing into their beds when they were fast asleep. One couple made their child a toy out of eight copper coins to play with, in an effort to prevent the child from falling asleep. The child eventually fell asleep, but when the monster approached, the coins emanated a strong gold light that scared it away!

The couple spread the word to their neighbors and friends of how the monster was afraid of coins, and people started giving out 压祟钱 (yā suì qián), literally meaning "money to oppress the monster 祟." Later on, a simpler character 岁 was used to replace 祟 and the notion of 压岁钱 came about.

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