My earliest memory of money came from receiving 利事 (Cantonese pronunciation: Lai See) during Chinese New Year. Relatives coming to visit during the first week of the year would give red envelopes with money inside to children. The word 利, Lai, literally means profit or benefit. The word 事, See, means event or happening. So, 利事 can literally mean “beneficial event.” As a young child, receiving these red envelopes certainly was a beneficial event. By the end of the week, I would have collected enough money for my annual allowance. I remembered one year my mother took me to a bank to open my first savings account with my collected share.
But there is much more to this tradition than children receiving and learning about money. The proper利事 etiquette “requires” that those who have more to give to those who have less. For example, if you are the boss, you should give利事to your employees. If you live in an apartment complex with a management staff, you should give利事to your security guard, cleaners, and doorman. In other word, during the first week of the Chinese New Year, the big beneficial event is the massive movement of money from those who have more to those who have less.
Perhaps, imbedded in the Chinese New Year tradition, there is a yearning or at least a reminder for creating a more sustainable community by intentionally moving our financially resource in the direction of the poor and needy. As the U.S. government debates whether to raise the minimum wage, take a lesson from the custom of利事 giving and make this decision a beneficial event.
Well I got a hammer, and I got a bell,
and I got a song to sing, all over this land.
It's the hammer of Justice, it's the bell of Freedom,
it's the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters,
all over this land.
Reflection Questions for Feast of the Presentation (Year A)
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world