压岁钱 /yā suì qián/ money given to children as a lunar New Year gift
New Year’s money, also known as “evil” money (“evil” is an unlucky thing. The ancients used this custom to express that nothing unlucky will happen in the coming year). After the New Year’s dinner, the elders will distribute the pre-prepared New Year’s money to the younger ones. It is said that the New Year’s money can suppress evil spirits, and the younger ones can spend the year in peace after receiving the New Year’s money. In folk culture, New Year’s money means warding off evil spirits and exorcising ghosts, and bless peace. The original purpose of lucky money was to suppress evil and drive away evil spirits. Because people think that children are vulnerable to evil spirits, they use lucky money to ward off evil spirits. On the morning of the first day of the first lunar month, the younger generation pays New Year greetings to their elders, and the elders give lucky money to the younger generation. Usually, on New Year’s Eve, the mother puts the lucky money sealed in red paper under the child’s pillow. When giving out new year’s money, mothers will naturally say something like wishing their children a safe and healthy growth. Giving new year’s money to children comes from a long-standing legend.
Historically, there are many types of New Year’s money, which are usually distributed by the elders to the younger ones during the countdown to the New Year, which expresses the “evil spirit” and contains the concern and sincere blessings from the elders to the younger ones. The other kind is given by the younger generations to the elders. The “sui” in this new year’s money refers to the age, which is intended to wish the elderly a long life. The earliest traceable written record of New Year’s money can be found in the Han Dynasty. It is also called lucky money. It is not circulated in the market, but is cast into coins as ornaments and has the function of warding off evil spirits.
Myths and legends
A long time ago, there was a monster named “Sui” who came out to harm children on New Year’s Eve. If it touches a child’s forehead with its hand, the child will be frightened, cry, and have a fever. When the fever subsides, the child will turn into a fool. One New Year’s Eve, a couple strung eight copper coins with red thread to entertain their children. In the middle of the night, a gust of wind blew out the lights, and the “haunted” spirit slipped in. When “Sui” stretched his hand to the child’s forehead, the string of copper coins beside the child’s pillow suddenly gave off a bright flash of light, which scared “Sui” and ran away in panic. After the incident spread, people strung eight copper coins with red thread and placed them next to their children’s pillows on New Year’s Eve. Sure enough, the “evil spirit” never came to bring disaster or plague again. It turns out that eight copper coins coincide with the number of the eight immortals, and their magic power can ward off “evil spirits” and eliminate disasters. From then on, this string of copper coins specially given to children to avoid misfortune became known as “evil money”. “Chong” and “Sui” have the same pronunciation, so it was later called “lucky money”. The ancients firmly believed that money can communicate with gods and conquer ghosts, so copper coins have been used since ancient times as “Ya Sheng” money to ward off evil spirits and seek good luck. According to research, giving money to children during the Spring Festival to “suppress evil spirits” has been popular since at least the late Ming Dynasty. By the Qing Dynasty, there were also “New Year’s Plates” and “New Year’s Fruits” appearing.