They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but this traditional Lunar New Year decoration is different. Not to be confused with popular tropical houseplant speciesthis DIY “money tree” symbolizes wealth, auspiciousness and good fortune in Chinese culture – things we could all use a little more in 2022. They consist of flowering branches or small trees adorned with envelopes red, which are money gifts exchanged during Chinese New Year, birthdays, weddings and other festive events.
Multidisciplinary artist Jenny Acostawho is also a volunteer designer for the non-profit association AAPI Welcome to Chinatown, shares her step-by-step guide to creating your own lucky tree. She was first inspired to make them due to her grandmother’s Christmas tradition of decorating their tree with red envelopes.
“[My grandmother] put red envelopes with different amounts of money inside for us to take. It was a fun game for me and my cousins,” Acosta recalls. “When I was growing up, I bought silver willow branches and cherry blossoms for her, which she displayed. During Chinese New Year, it has become a tradition to decorate them with red envelopes.
In Chinese culture, when you enter a friend or relative’s house during Chinese New Year, you are usually greeted with a jubilant mix of greetings depending on the dialect, but gong hei fat choy – the Cantonese pronunciation of gōngxǐ fācái in Mandarin – is by far the most common. The phrase means “wishing you happiness and prosperity”, and red envelopes are almost immediately placed in your hands as New Year’s greetings are repeatedly exchanged in thanks.
It doesn’t really matter how much money you receive, although kids would probably say otherwise – the envelope itself carries the real meaning behind the gesture. Red represents luck and prosperity, and gold represents wealth. With Acosta’s handmade red envelopes, you can personalize them with good wishes, just like you would a greeting card.
“My grandfather is a man of few words,” she says. “But he wrote thoughtful notes in Chinese and English on the back of every red envelope for his grandchildren. They were very special to me. I still keep them to this day.
Your money tree can be made with any small plant with branches, as long as you avoid those with pure white flowers since white is traditionally associated with funerals. Some plants have a special meaning. Silver willows are symbols of growth and wealth, peach blossoms are believed to bring love and prosperity, and cherry blossoms are valued for their beauty. So roll up your sleeves this weekend and read on to find out how you can make a lucky money tree to brighten up your fortune this year.