Business & Economy

Lunar New Year is a busy time for Southern California banks

Wells Fargo provides these red envelopes for its customers during the Lunar New Year.
Wells Fargo provides these red envelopes for its customers during the Lunar New Year.
KPCC/Wendy Lee

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The Lunar New Year kicked off on February 10, and for the younger generation, that means it’s time to receive red envelopes.

The small envelopes contain crisp, new bills – and it’s tradition in some Asian cultures for the older generation to give them to people who aren’t married.

That can create a large demand for new cash at Southern California banks. In November, Wells Fargo ordered $3.5 million in new bills for its Los Angeles-area branches in part to prepare for the Lunar New Year. The bank's Alhambra Marketplace location ran out of new cash last week.      

Thuy Bui, the branch’s manager, said customers asked for different amounts of new bills from a buck all the way up to $100 to put in red envelopes.

“New cash resembles good luck,” Bui said. “It’s for the New Year; a new start. It’s creating happiness for the people receiving it as well.”

But how do you know how much to put in it? I asked my dad, David Lee. He said it really depends on the giver of the red envelopes.

“Traditionally, you would put a dollar or so, but you can put however much you desire,” my dad said. “There’s no fixed rules or laws.”

My dad says he didn’t grow up with red envelopes because his family couldn’t afford it during the Great Depression. That changed in the 1950s, and as the family got bigger red envelopes have become part of the tradition.

“The older people will share the gifts and the blessings they have with the youngsters,” my dad said. “It’s the circle of life.”

To my dad, it isn’t about the money. It’s about giving blessings to the next generation, and knowing that they will do the same in the future when they are older.