Red envelope is called Bao lì xì in Vietnam. Gifting red envelopes containing money or lì xì, mừng tuổi on the first days of the lunar new year is a tradition of Vietnamese people and many other Eastern countries.
Origin of red envelope
It has been told that a monster appeared, at the lunar New Year’s Eve, patted on the heads of children and made them have fevers or become silly. So that families with kids must do not sleep in order to look after their children at night.
Once four male fairies passed by the village and knew about the monster. They turned them into coins, parents wrapped the coins in red cloths to drive away the monster. Most truly the dangerous and ugly monster was scared of the shining coins, ran away and never appeared again.
The story has spread everywhere. Since then, they put coins or banknotes into red bags and gift them to children at the beginning of a new year in the lunar calendar. The bags are considered best wishes to children. Later, they have replaced the red bags with red envelopes made from paper, written meaningful phrases or words, drawn some images on the envelopes. Givers hope children to grow fast and be healthy. The tradition of giving red envelopes with money is called lì xì or mừng tuổi in Vietnam.
The meaning of red envelopes in Vietnam
Traditionally, on the first day of the lunar new year, all family members gather in order to give best wishes to each other. Children and grandchildren give wishes to grandparents and parents. They may bring gifts to their grandparents and parents. In return for the wishes and gifts, grandparents and parents gift their children and grandchildren red envelopes with money as good luck in the new year.
Red envelopes are gifts for children at Tet festival. However, older people can also gift Bao lì xì to their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of all ages. Hosts and hostesses should gift red envelopes to children of visitors who come to their houses at Tet. Visitors also gift the hosts’ children Bao lì xì.
The red envelopes are not only given on the first day of the new year but also on the first ten days of Tet.
Red envelope represents good luck, happiness, prosperity, health at Tet. It shows the love of older people to younger people. The money in the envelope is not for spending but considered a special part of Vietnamese Tet, love and care.
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Design of red envelopes
The traditional red envelope has a red color, is a small fabric bag or a rectangular red envelope made from paper. The envelope must be a little bigger than a Vietnamese banknote and in a rectangular shape. Today, Bao lì xì has many colors such as pink, yellow, orange, blue, green, white. Dark colors such as black, brown, grey are considered unlucky at Tet so that we almost do not see envelopes in these colors.
The most popular patterns on red envelopes include golden/pink apricot flowers, fruits and other foods for Tet such as watermelon, Square/cylindrical sticky rice, animal signs, lanterns, coins, Rat’s wedding, Vietnamese people in traditional Ao Dai, Tet activities such as visiting parents, going to Tet markets, firing crackers, cooking Square sticky rice, asking for calligraphy.
Meaningful words or phrases include:
Xuân (Spring or lunar new year), Phúc (fortune), Tài (talent, prosperity), Lộc (bud, fortune).
Chúc mừng năm mới (Happy new year), Tết đoàn viên (Tet reunion), Xuân đầm ấm (Warm new year), Vạn sự như ý (myriad things go according to your will), An khang thịnh vượng (Health and wealth).
Patterns, images and scenes can be hand-drawn and characters are written in calligraphy. At spring flower festivals and Ho Chi Minh City calligraphy street, customers can ask masters to write and draw on red envelopes at their wishes. Asking for calligraphy is also a tradition of Vietnamese people at Tet festival.
Printers have been used popularly in the world, they have designed and printed beautiful red envelopes with various patterns. Except for Bao lì xì with calligraphy words and large-sized ones, red envelopes are usually sold in 6s or 10s.
Red envelopes in modern styles have funny phrases such as: Hội những người anh em thiện lành, lì xì đâu? Group of good brothers, where is good luck money?, Anh làm gì có số tiền lớn lì xì (I do not have too much money to gift), Em mượn lì xì để tỏ tình (I use the red envelope to express my love to you).
Tips on preparing and giving red envelopes in Vietnam
How much should I put into a red envelope in Vietnam?
The amount is not important. You can put VND 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000; 100,000; 200,000; 500,000 into the envelope. From my experience, the most popular is the 50,000 Dong banknote. In Vietnam, we can buy two or three Vietnamese sandwich or a bowl of noodle soup for VND 50,000.
Read more about Guide to Vietnamese Currency.
Should the banknotes be new?
It is better to put new banknotes into red envelope. You can change new banknotes at the banks. In case you can not find brand new ones, you can choose the cleanest banknotes, get creases and folds out of them by putting them under heavy objects, make sure they are flat and clean.
Can I put foreign banknotes into the envelope?
The answer is yes. In fact, receivers will use the Vietnam’s banknotes for buying something. Small foreign banknotes are usually kept. Many Vietnamese people believe that United States two-dollar banknotes are rare and bring luckiness and put tin their wallets.
Where to buy red envelopes?
It is easy to buy red envelopes when Tet is coming in Vietnam. They are sold at most of the souvenir shops, convenience stores, local markets, decoration stores, supermarkets, bookstores, at spring flower festivals, small temporary Tet accessories on the streets. A pack of six envelopes costs from VND 10,000. A customized red envelope with calligraphy words costs from VND 15,000.
What to say when gifting red envelopes Vietnamese people?
If receivers are children, you can say: Chúc cháu mau lớn (I wish you grow fast), Chúc cháu thông minh học giỏi (I wish you are intelligent and study well), Chúc cháu ngày càng xinh đẹp (I wish you more and more beautiful).