Please no Hongbao for Christmas

I find the Chinese like Xmas.  For different reasons perhaps.  They like the “lights”.  Creating cards. Sending cards.  Receiving cards.   Decorating the tree.(though, with everything else, I’ve found the longer I’m married, the less control I have over that as well)

My wife, in short, has “gotten into” the “Xmas thing”.   We have lots of decorations, lights, etc.   She likes the Xmas music we play.  She even has a Xmas CD in the Lexus.

In a moment I will rush out to the same place I always go, and try and find the same type of thing I usually try and find, ie jewelry.   My wife has long since stopped wearing her wedding ring.   (as have I….another post).   But she likes the other stuff I buy her, and she wears them all, so that’s fine by me. 

So everything is kosher.  Except for one thing.  And that one thing is gift giving.  
I seem to dislike the Chinese tradition of giving money for Xmas to my kids.
We ain’t talking slipping $20 into an envelope either.

Rather, I should say it’s the amount given, that turns me off.   Quite frankly it destroys the Spirit of Christmas, when a kid receives a hongbao way above his paygrade.

Grandma and grandpa need to understand money will not buy them love.

As a result, both of my kids have a couple of thousand dollars in their bank accounts.  ( Their off to a good start!)

The amounts given are usually in the what I consider “obscene” range for a child, ie $500, sometimes more.   With all my might I’ve tried to explain the “Christian ethic” of not giving money during Xmas.  Call me a bit conservative in this regards, but I still believe giving cash to someone on Christmas is still a bit crass.    

Grandparents giving money to their grandkids is bad enough.  I know full well the custom of the hongbao.  Yet when mere “friends” give money it’s something else.

Why not just use the money you wish to give and buy something instead?

Alas, the Chinese propensity for Face is particularly overwhelming this time of year.  The Chinese are actually expressing two things:  “You are cherished”, and “I am wealthy enough to give this to you”.

Spending Christmas with the Chinese is probably the only time I ever prefer Western company.  The Chinese simplistic wont for comparison only exacerbates the situation.   A large part of the Chinese mentality for cash giving this time of year is not so much an expression of love as much an expression of power, and the need to crave respect.   The only problem is that giving money isn’t in itself a memorable act from a child’s perspective.  My daughters won’t recall how they played with that thick bulky hongbao stiff with money.  They will recall the $35 you spent on that doll, though. 

As such my wife never has a problem openly comparing what my parents give our kids compared to what her parents give.    You’ve read my posts.  You know the royal “Stock” I come from.   It’s a battle I cannot win.   Nor is it a battle I shouldn’t even try and partake of.   With the Chinese, when cash is involved, it becomes an arms race.   And when we refuse to join that arms race it’s obviously because we “cannot afford”, to right?   Never mind it is not part of the Western culture.  (There is nothing more ironic than watching Chinese “Christians” give each other money for Xmas.)
My parents may send one of my children $20 for a birthday.  The same day my inlaws will send $500.   So am I supposed to order my parents to send $501?    Yet the wife still thinks my family’s refusal to pony up hard cash to a child is a reflection of their lack of class.   (something else I wish I’d known twenty years ago)

At first I was bemused that my kids were receiving money for Xmas, their birthdays, etc.   Only after my wife would venture to tell me how much they were actually receiving did my jaw drop.  It’s sending the wrong message to my kids when their stocking has a hongbao inside, and they happily start to count the money once it spills out. 

The Chinese just don’t seem to understand(nor care) that Xmas and cash for kids aren’t supposed to mix.   Yeah, we give gifts.  Yes, we spend money to buy those gifts.  Stores bank on consumers spending money.   But didn’t Jesus have a problem with the money changers in the temple?   I can’t recall any movies where the kid wakes up on Xmas day and happily bounces down the stairs to see green xmas packaging decorated with dollar signs.  And the kid bursts out loud
“$500!  Just what I wanted!”

Giving children money simply reinforces in the eyes of the child the role money itself plays in society.  It’s a simplistic approach.   I know it’s a losing battle, but a lot of us out here across the Pacific still think Xmas and great bundles of cash shouldn’t mix.  Buy them a bond.  Whatever.  But Christmas shouldn’t have to be a pissing contest between rival inlaws’  of each family when it comes to giving.  


  1. Gift giving in the US is also over the top. Has been for years. It is a bit sentimental, but there is something to be said for the old Little House on the Prairie television show where the children got an apple or a mug and were besides themselves.
    It is all cultural though. In Japan, gifts are viewed as nothing special since you give for them anything and everything. Can almost be vulgar at times. Instead, the otoshidama-bukuro (Japanese hongbiao) is a big deal, and the children are supposed to treasure the cash they receive.


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