I was on the search this past week for little red envelopes. They couldn’t be just any red envelope but the kind that you slip a little money into to mark the Lunar New Year. I’ve never given them out before but this year I have my “Honorary” Japanese-Columbian-Canadian grandson who subtly reminded me about this custom. He never directly suggested that I might want to give one to him but told me about it more in the vein of Useful Information for the Non-Asian Grandmother To Know. Well, he did mention in passing about the quite generous ones he received from the women in the salon where his mom works. Some of them have known him for years and years and, believe me, if you’ve known him for any time at all you want to celebrate with him in whatever way you can — even little red envelopes.
I did know about these little red envelopes. My friend L married into a Chinese family where little red envelopes are given to the kids every Lunar New Year. She’d talk about filling oodles of them for her nieces and nephews when the new year came around. It was probably a good thing that it wasn’t a custom in my household with the number of nieces and nephews. They would have done very well with eleven aunties and uncles but we’d have been broke.
I thought about just getting a white envelope and colouring it red but that didn’t seem right. I went to the dollar store but the only red envelopes came attached to little hearts for Valentine’s — which I bought for that occasion. It seemed somehow important to get the right little red envelopes, so off I went to Chinatown. One of the blessings of living in a city like Toronto, is that you can find a Chinatown and a Koreatown and a Greektown and an Italiantown and an Indiantown and almost any other nationality you can think of. Naoki is a frequent visitor to many of them, but I couldn’t ask him to pick them up for me now could I? I found them in the first store I went into. I wanted to buy just a couple but they came in a package of twenty so twenty I bought all for one dollar. What a bargain.
Once I had the envelopes, I decided I wanted to give one to the little Chinese girl who lives next door, and another to Moo who’s beyond the age for getting a red envelope but, really, does one ever grow out of such treats? And, of course, there was one for Naoki. I asked my student in Tokyo if he’d be giving them to his nieces and nephews and son. He said, “No, it isn’t a custom in Japan.” Hmmm. I mentioned that conversation to Naoki who said, without missing a beat, “It is in my house.” Smart kid.
He came today to pick it up and was genuinely grateful and pleased that I’d followed his hints and established a new custom that he and I will share for a long time — I do still have 17 envelopes. He also bought me a gift for the new year. When I opened it, I held it the wrong way — not that I could read it anyway — which made him laugh. He made the Japanese calligraphy for the word “Luck.” I told him it was a good thing he gave me that since, not only, was it a beautiful gift but, also, because the horoscope for a Dog (like me) in the Year of the Rat was this:
“It may not be your luckiest year, so ensure you stay open to new ideas, challenges and invitations. The health of your finances and relationships could be on the brink of significant improvement. Follow your plan and you’ll see future success.”