The Thing About Life

The Economics of Chinese New Year

Dear Xander,

For the next 15-20 years, this will probably be your favourite holiday of the year; you get 2 days off school (or work) for the price of 1 holiday, the snacks and food are nothing short of a royal feast, you get to run from one place to another visiting everyone, and this time of year, people are giving out free money.

But as the Chinese New Years go by for your dear old dad, I have come to learn the values tied to these annual traditions and rituals, and I impart them to you for your reference for when you come of age and start wondering what is going on as well.

The value behind the obligatory visiting of friends and relatives is obvious enough; masked behind an auspicious superstition of “bringing good luck” to the homes of those you are acquainted with, the act itself ensures that ties with the people around you are maintained at least on an annual basis, and as such, the “good luck” you hear in all entrance greetings is really the support that you offer as a kith or kin.

Courtesy of your mother: her (very successful) 1st attempt!

The abundance of food and drink in every home, while representing an abode that is and will be well stocked for the rest of the year, arises more from 2 points of practicality: one, that you are well prepared to feed the sudden influx of visitors, and two, to keep the lesser acquainted occupied with food in their mouths in order to avoid awkward conversations.

Having the celebrations officially run over a 2-day period opens up visit-planning schedules for more flexibility. Can’t make it on the first day? Come onĀ  the second. And if you can’t do both, bear in mind Chinese New Year (“CNY”) traditionally runs over 15 days, not just 2 (the government can’t afford their economy coming to a standstill for more than 2 days by allowing their workforce to play mahjong for 2 weeks); this is for the more calculative to subliminally catch those who try to avoid the festivities altogether by going overseas for an opportunistic vacation.

The “free money” bit (a.k.a. your red packets) seems the most complex issue for parents to manage. This is where you come in for us, your parents. You see, the overarching rule for CNY red packet distribution is that parents and married couples are the ones to give and children and the unmarried are the ones to receive, during this time of year, we consider you to have been born for the sole reason of of taking back what we dish out. If you think about it on a deeper level, this also works out for the purposes of expanding our nation’s population: the more children a family unit has, the more they can collect back. As an only child, you probably can imagine how your mother and I are feeling about giving you more brothers and sisters during this time.

It’s also when all the other traditions mentioned come together in support of the economics of the red packet tradition (which incidentally also translates well into marketing terminology): we meticulously plan our visitation schedule (develop our campaign timeline), offer up food and drink in abundance when people visit us (building up positive brand reputation), visit as many friends and relatives as our social circle and influence will allow (engaging our market audience), spare no one in the process over the 15-day period (ensure as wide a reach as possible), and make sure you’re around everywhere we go, dressed in your holiday best, acting your cutest, and having the best time of your life (you’re the cash cow).

Work hard for us this holiday season, son. We’re counting on you.



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