Giving lucky money is regarded as one of the most interesting cultural practices in Vietnam. It has become an integral part of the Tet holiday and is still being well preserved from generation to generation.
Giving lucky money was a custom originated from China. Years ago, there was a couple who were over 50 years old who had just given birth to a little boy. In that Lunar New Year, 8 fairies visited their house and knew that there would be a monster coming to hurt him. To protect the boy, the 8 fairies transformed into 8 coins which were then wrapped in red cloth and laid beside the boy when he was sleeping. Thanks to these coins, which were the fairies, the boy was unharmed by the monster.
Read more about Superstitions in Vietnam
The old couple was so thankful and gradually, everyone in the village knew about the stories. Since then, when Lunar New Year comes, people will give children money wrapped in red paper with a belief that the money will protect children from being harmed.
The lucky money envelopes
Besides the folk story above, there are many other different stories about the origin of lucky money and no one knows when this custom was first started in Vietnam.
The amount of lucky money you give depends on how close the relationship is. The closer you are, the more money you give. Originally, the meaning of lucky money is not meant by the amount of money you give, it is what you wish the other when giving lucky money. However, nowadays, the amount of money is considered one of the factors which express how close you are to the receiver. The range is about VND 200,000 to VND 500,000 (US$ 8.5 to US$ 21) for a close relationship and about VND 20,000 to VND 100,000 (US$ 1 to US$ 4.3) for acquaintances.
The amount of money to give depends on how close the relationship is
The popular time to give lucky money is on the Tet holiday which lasts 3 days from the first to the third of January in the Lunar calendar. On this occasion, children are the ones who expect to receive lucky money from other members of their family and acquaintances. Depending on the particular practice of each family, lucky money in Vietnam is given to particular people. For some families, the ones who are not unable to make money by themselves including children and the elderly are qualified to receive lucky money. For some families, you can receive lucky money up until you get married.
Giving lucky money in Lunar New Year
Besides the Tet holiday, you can also give lucky money on special occasions when you visit someone’s house. On these occasions, lucky money can also be replaced by gifts or food. The sole purpose is to show your respect and love to the host that you visit.
There are some practices you should note to yourself when giving lucky money in Vietnam. First, lucky money should be new and put in red envelopes. The reason for this practice is that lucky money is often given at the start of a year, so it should be the new money. Red is the symbol of luck in Eastern culture, which explains why lucky money is put in red envelopes. Secondly, people used to only give money that was printed in red color as a way to wish luck. However, these notes are of low value so people do not mind the color of the money eventually. Last but not least, accompanied with lucky money should be some wishes for good things such as longevity, wealth, success, health, etc.
Read more about Gift Giving Etiquettes in Vietnam
Wish grandparents health when giving or receiving lucky money
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Giving lucky money has become a custom embedded in Vietnamese culture. Its meaning is not only drawn from the amount of money but the good intentions that people give to each other.
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I quickly learned about this being an English teacher in Vietnam I saw people decorating the tree during the Tet holiday with the envelops too, just like Christmas ornaments