HEADLINE Commentary: Holiday cash gifts erode traditional spirit


Commentary: Holiday cash gifts erode traditional spirit

By Ryan Yaoran Yu | People's Daily app

07:03, February 22, 2018


The Chinese Spring Festival is a national holiday just as important as Christmas in the US or Europe. Family reunions and warm celebrations fill the week-long holiday which serves as the foundation where warm-hearted moments are experienced only once a year. 

But concerns and worries have been expressed among Chinese over the twisted and yet subtle conventions that have emerged, slowly eroding the true holiday spirit. 

Hongbao, with its trademark red envelope, consists of money given to children and friends for good luck. The gesture is a long-standing tradition of Chinese Spring Festival. But in some regions, it has become a burden. 

Chinese media published a “Hongbao” map, revealing the various amounts of cash young Chinese throughout China’s provinces typically receive during the holiday season. 

The report found that children in Fujian Province typically receive $550 during Spring Festival, making them the wealthiest holiday cash recipients. 

According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, annual disposable income per capita in Fujian Province was just under $5,000 in 2017, the equivalent of 10 red envelops. 

What was once a gesture of good luck, is now an expensive gift bereft of sentiment and meaning.

The holiday cash-giving burden has been the center of hot debate in other countries. In the US, some have complained that it carries a dubious meaning, far removed from the principles of any charitable act. It is considered to be a form of “forced giving.” 

Comments found online reveal criticism over how the holidays force people to write and send cards to others they ignore throughout the year, or to attend dreary holiday parties where they are forced to drink unhealthy and cholesterol-rich eggnog while spreading false cheer and giving gifts.

The nature of human society is a highly social paradigm. People are related to families, colleagues, friends and even strangers you have never met or seen. 

One component of social protocol involves gift-giving, the true meaning of the holidays, or so we are told. 

And to be clear, this is indeed true, but it’s not the entire story.

The spirit of giving during the holidays is rooted in what it means to share and bless others. Just because you give hongbao to others doesn’t mean you’ll become wealthy. The gift functions as a message of love and care to the receiver. It’s an honest way of sharing your success and good luck with those dearest to you.  

Unfortunately, things begin to change when goodwill evaporates, and competitive nature takes over. Competition has turned gift value into a measuring stick used to gauge social status. As a result, money has become the dominant language of love and respect. 

There are those who blame the commercialization of holidays, flooded with sales, discounts, and promotions, accompanied by long lines that only remind us of material pursuits.

And, again, this is true. But it’s not the entire story.

Maybe the reason why we focus on material gain stems from a cheap and convenient desire to meet the demands of our egos.

It would be refreshing to see pecuniary gifts evolve into honest praise and admiration from the gift-givers themselves. I find it ironic how money can turn the noble of qualities of a human into cheap ornaments destined for the trashcan.

The joy of gift giving rests within that special moment when the recipient expresses their gratitude towards you. The act is about what it means to understand another person, to cherish and care about them. Giving is more enjoyable than receiving. And when it’s carried out with sincerity, it becomes a more wonderful experience for both people.  

In comparison, giving money as a holiday present is insensitive and a sign of grave disrespect.  

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