Chinese church leaders consider how to use the Lunar New Year tradition as an opportunity for evangelism.

Every winter as Lunar New Year (LNY) draws near, Andrea Lee assists her Southern Californian Chinese church, New Life Christian Center, in preparing red envelopes, a traditional Chinese way to give gifts during the holiday.

But these aren’t just any hong bao (红包, “red envelopes”). While they do contain crisp one-dollar bills, they also include bookmarks inscribed with Bible verses designed and printed by the church. Throughout the LNY season, members of the congregation pass these out to newcomers and those attending church-hosted celebrations, which often include a communal meal and a sermon from the pastor.

“This is a way of honoring the Chinese tradition, spreading the feeling of warmth and goodwill to diaspora Chinese,” said Lee, a content manager with ChinaSource. “The elderly in the church are particularly delighted, and the children love it too. The joyful faces of the old, middle aged, and young, all ages, coupled with the pastor’s gospel message and encouragement, fosters a sense of home and belonging.”

In Chinese culture, the color red signifies celebration, and red envelopes symbolize happiness and prosperity. Thus, during the Spring Festival, Chinese individuals often jokingly say to each other, “Gong xi fa cai, hong bao na lai” (恭喜发财,红包拿来), which means, “Congratulations on the good fortune, but give me the red packet first.” Today, a digital version of this playful practice has also moved to the realm of the Chinese social media app WeChat, where people can virtually “snatch” red envelopes.

Generally, red envelope gifting goes only in one direction: from elders to the (unmarried) younger generation, from adults to children, and from …

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