Cantonese pronunciation for "lucky packets". These are little red paper envelopes with money inside, given to welcoming children by adult relatives and friends during all major Chinese festivities, such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autum Festival, and others. They used to be plain red packets, but now they're emblazoned with all sorts of corporate slogans, because companies give them out for free as advertisements.

Kids can get rich off this, especially if he or she has lots of relatives and family friends. For a Chinese extended family, I have a modest number of relatives, so I used to gross around US$200 each Chinese New Year. I know some people who get over US$1000, because they have huge extended families.

When accepting lai see, it is customary to hold out both hands. Before accepting, you are supposed to utter some celebratory greeting as a sign of politeness. For example:

"Gong heh fat choi" - Cantonese, literally means "Congratulations! Get rich!". It is really a universal Chinese New Year celebratory greeting. Say this if you want the sweet lai see and the money inside.

You can use other greetings as well. For example, to an elderly person, say "Good health, and live ten thousand years!". They might say back to you "Study hard and succeed!", or some other proverb before giving you the money. Be patient. You might have to withstand several onslaughts of four-character proverbs before getting your stuff. In my experience, grandparents give out the most, because most of them tend to dote on their grandchildren.

Never open a lai see as soon as you get it! It is very rude. Wait until you have a whole heap of them (typically after some family gathering or a dinner with friends), take them home, and open them all. You're suddenly rich. At one time, lai see was my only guaranteed source of income.

Some people use the empty red envelopes as signs of luck. Stick four of them under your bed at the corners, leaving a bit of money in each (small change will do). It is supposed to bring you success and fortune.

Lai See pronounced incorrectly in Cantonese (being a tonal language) can also mean "to shit your pants". If you're not sure of the pronunciation it is best to say "Lucky Money" or "Red Envelope".  Being fond of puns my cousin and I used to refer to lychee as lai see since we were never fond of them and because it could be an unintended side effect of eating too many.

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