Chinese red envelopes

My husband’s business partner and his wife are having a baby this month.

They are Malaysian Chinese so I thought it would be nice to give the baby a red envelope, also known as ‘hongbao’. 

When visiting relatives in Singapore as a little girl, I knew them as ‘ang pao’ but it’s all the same thing.

You've probably worked  out that the red envelopes contain money.

In terms of etiquette:

  • An even sum is favoured
  • Avoid giving an amount with a 4 in it
  • Give notes of a single denomination, not coins. 

The tradition of giving red envelopes comes from the story of the evil spirit, Suì (祟)

Suì, a black form with colourless hands, tormented a village by sneaking into children’s bedrooms, touching them on the head as they slept leaving them ill or disabled. The parents of a boy from the village gave him coins wrapped in red paper to play with, to keep him awake for the New Year. Everyone fell asleep, including some fairies who came to protect the boy. When Suì entered the room and reached out to touch the boy’s head, the coins shone brightly, frightening Suì away. Words spread that the coins scared Sui away, and so parents put money in red paper.

My mum has a stack of them at home. If I’d planned a little better, I could have swiped one when I last visited.  Thieving ang pao is probably highly inauspicious so I looked for envelopes online. They all looked fine but I had no idea what the characters meant.

Remember when Chinese character tattoos were popular in the nineties and then it turned out that the Chinese characters which were meant to say ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Courage in the face of adversity’ actually said things like ‘Rice fried in pork fat’ and ‘Window Okay Beaver Tears’? 

I wanted to avoid a faux pas so I sent a picture to my Aunty Yian who checked that the envelope was appropriate.

The one I bought, at the top of the post, says happiness/good fortune. I was safe to proceed.

I thought it could be a fun craft project to make your own red envelopes, so here are my recommended supplies. I know the leather Aspinal envelope isn't part of the art and craft supply kit, but it was too cool an idea not to include. 


Baby's first gift

Alex is the first one of my friends to birth a child.

In the run-up to the delivery, I frequently experienced internal fireworks of excitement so extreme that I had to sit down.

This gift quest would be a doddle. All baby clothes look cute, all the toys are colourful or so soft that you want to rub your face on them. Plus anything in miniature is a novelty.

I was almost at the cash register of Trotters, a very nice baby store, with some tiny rabbit booties when I decided not to proceed with my purchase but to wait.

Although I loved the bunny booties, they weren't exactly Alex's taste. 

Also, after about a month, the baby wouldn't be able to wear them. Alex would probably just end up using them to polish a small mirror. One bunny bootie per finger. It would be a slow task.

Because she wanted to keep the gender of the baby a surprise, people bought her lots of grey, white and yellow gifts. She requested something colourful so I came up with a list of items:

  • mobile for the cot
  • baby crockery and cutlery
  • baby gym mat for tummy time
  • bath toys
  • wall stickers for the nursery

I decided on a Fisher Price baby gym mat with a kick piano. It's awesome.

Fisher Price piano gym | £44.99 | Argos

Fisher Price piano gym | £44.99 | Argos

Nothing like this was available when I was a baby. My mum probably just plonked me down on the floor with a Bible and some dried rice to play with and look how well I turned out!

Alex gave birth to Baby W in June and he is perfect. I have witnessed baby W on the mat. I beheld his intelligent eyes, so full of wonder and his teeny baby toes playing the notes with delicacy.

Baby W is going to be a genius with this level of stimulation.

Gift Ideas for Babies

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