Li xi or the gift of lucky money during Tet

TUOI TRE News, Mon, January 23, 2012,9:23 AM

Traditionally the most special and most waited-for holiday in Vietnam, the lunar New Year usually arrives around late January or early February.

The first three days of the springtime new year are celebrated by everyone, although for many others, the festivities and other forms of celebrations can last an entire week.

Many traditional customs are practiced during this special occasion, like honoring the ancestors’ spirits, visiting close relatives on the first day of the New Year, exchanging New Year’s wishes with relatives, neighbors and friends, and especially the custom of giving lì xì or lucky money to children and elders.

This custom – which is known as mừng tuổi (many happy birthdays return) in the north and lì xì (similar to the Cantonese pronunciation "lai see") in the south - is a way of honoring children and elders in Vietnam during Tet. "Lai see" in Chinese means a thing that brings lots of luck and good fortune to kids. Nowadays, it is also a symbol of good health, success, and happiness.

Despite staying up late on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the arrival of a new year and especially honor traditional rituals dedicated to greeting the ancestors’ spirits coming back to the family for the occasion, the locals wake up early the next morning, put on their best clothes and the entire family, usually multi-generational, gathers in the living room to welcome the New Year.

Children will respectfully fold their arms in front of their chests, and, facing their parents as well as grandparents, give them the best wishes for a “Happy New Year” or “good health and longevity”.

The adults, in return, also extend their wishes to children for “Eating well and growing up healthy”, and “Happiness and prosperity” for all family members. Guests also give children lì xì as well.

To rejoice over or pray for happiness and longevity, on the first morning of Tet, adults congratulate children on becoming a year older by presenting them with red envelopes holding some freshly-minted banknotes inside.

According to traditional beliefs, the money in red envelops, usually in nominal quantity, bears a symbolic meaning while the red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

Giving li xi during the lunar New Year has been considered fortunate for both the givers and receivers. Those who give will also invite the flow of money into their house during the entire year.

Giving these envelopes symbolizes that the family fortune would be passed on to the children and the unmarried teens or adults.

According to some beliefs, lì xì is best kept and not spent immediately, a way to encourage young people to save money. Furthermore, the “lucky money”, as its name suggests, is believed to bring luck and wellness so the recipients might as well keep it.

In Vietnam, lì xì are typically given to those who are younger.

Red envelopes are used to deliver payment for favorable service to lion dance performers and religious practitioners.

Quick facts
Capital: Hanoi
Government: Republic
Language: Vietnamese
Population: 88.1 million
Religions: Buddhism
Timezone: GMT +7
Climate: climate, with humidity averaging 84 % throughout the year
Currency: đồng
"Discovering Vietnam and how radically different it is from England (I really did fall in love with it) has also made me want to travel more and explore the world and all it has to offer. I would never have been this adventurous had I not been on this placement; it’s really opened my eyes to the world."

Marianne, English teacher