When I was a child, Ramzan would almost always fall during the summer holidays and so would Eid as a result. It would make it all the more easier for going to Vellore where we would spend Eid with my uncles, aunts and cousins. My maternal grandparents also lived in Vellore and naturally, all of this was like a bonanza for us. So much fun! So many games! And, yes, there was the question of that crucial Eidi.
Eidi is a gift that elders give to children and it’s usually in the form of money. Having all that money made us feel rich temporarily even though we knew that at the end of the day we would hand it over to our parents and hope they would save it for us. Of course, no one really knew what happened to it after Eid was over.
My father had set up his business in Hong Kong in the late 70s and he would bring back these red Lai Shi envelopes in which he and my mother would insert crisp notes for Eidi. It had become a tradition of sorts for him to give Eidi to us in those envelopes. Also, every year, one Lai Shi envelope would have an extra note which some unsuspecting but lucky kid would get. (I never got it even once in all the years I received Eidi). It was something everyone looked forward to undoubtedly.
We would wait after Eid lunch to start haranguing the adults for Eidi and then spend several glorious hours counting and recounting how much money we’d all got from all the uncles and aunts. Older and much cooler cousins would never hand over their red envelopes to their parents and they’d head off to the nearby shops to buy sweets and whatever else they wanted. My brother and I would watch them with envy, knowing that Ammi would never allow us to do the same.
The landscape of Eid has changed totally today. Eid is celebrated by everybody in their own homes and we convene in my uncle’s house at the end of the day where I watch the younger kids get their Eidi without making any effort whatsoever. It totally bemuses me, I tell you. Also, the Lai Shi envelopes are no longer exclusive to my mother who still hands them around. A couple of others (including me) have also started the tradition even though only my mother continues to add the extra note in her envelopes.
So, the Lai Shi envelopes were an unmistakable connection to Hong Kong and China that has always been in my family. Around a decade ago, my brother married a Chinese girl and cemented that connection even further. When she came to live with us here in India, my sister-in-law was taken aback at seeing the Lai Shi envelopes being used for Eidi, but then, they were being used exactly as they were meant to be used, even in China.
In China, these bright red envelopes with golden Chinese letters and symbols are given to children by older people during important occasions like the New Year and weddings etc. The red is for good luck and auspiciousness. My sister-in-law, Ping Ping, living so far from her own family, understands the significance of Eid and Eidi, and a little bit of credit goes to these red Lai Shi envelopes, I’m sure.
Do you have a special family tradition? Share it with us!