Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT
My bestie Ying is planning her wedding. As her bridesmaid, I'm helping her with most of the arrangement, and for the first time, I have started to doubt the rationality of giving red envelopes.
It is customary for guests to share in the happy occasion and give a red envelope to express their good wishes and blessings for the newlyweds. But as my bestie made her list, she found it difficult to decide who to invite.
"I feel like I am asking them for money," she said. "It feels terrible. I don't want to owe anyone anything."
She feels it's ok to accept red envelopes from close friends but feels embarrassed about taking money from people she does not feel very close to, hence the dilemma. If she invites people she is not close to, she has to accept their money, and if she doesn't invite them, they might feel disrespected.
Ying and her fiancé have been together for years and many of her acquaintances know about their upcoming marriage: friends, neighbors, colleagues and their bosses. The list is long, and it seems that she has a lot of decisions to make.
What's even worse is that Ying wants her wedding to be in September, but her mother wants it to be held before her retirement in July. Her mom sees her wedding as a chance to reclaim some of the money she spent giving red envelopes to her acquaintances, their sons or daughters, her acquaintances' acquaintances and so on.
I just cannot help thinking how ridiculous this whole thing is. The tradition, once full of sincere blessings from friends and family, has somehow become an economic burden for both the guests and the organizers. It's like a vicious cycle, pushing people to give and take, sometimes unwillingly.
The red envelope custom has become an excuse to collect money and has even given rise to competition. When I receive wedding invitations from acquaintances, it is not easy to decide how much money I should give. I don't want to give too much because we are just casual friends, but if I give less than others, it will look bad. Sometimes, I end up calling around among our common friends to discuss how much money would be suitable for the red envelope.
The tradition of giving money at a wedding started in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Back then the economy was underdeveloped, and families were too poor to provide for new couples. So, their relatives and friends would give them red envelopes to support them and boost the start of their life together. Later, when those helpers had their turning point in life, for example, a wedding or a funeral, the couple would give them money to support them in their time of need. Hence, a circle of mutual support came into being.
However, the old tradition seems to have lost its value in modern society.
What do you think? Does giving a red envelope still reflect the giver's genuine wish to lend support? I find it hard to say.
This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.