Chinese Red Envelope

Red envelopes, also called red packets, lucky money, or hongbao in Chinese, are a popular monetary gift given on some important occasions or festivals in China and some other Asian countries, especially widely seen during the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival). It is a Chinese New Year gift with money stuffed into red paper to kids. The red packets are usually presented by parents and grandparents to children during Chinese New Year, which is probably one of the most recognized traditions that are observed during the Festival.

Red Envelopes
 

Why give the red envelopes?


Protection: According to legend a monster known as Sui appeared on New Year's Eve with the intent of harming children. A sleeping child who was touched by this monster would develop a fever and subsequently become an idiot. However it was said that when their parents prayed sincerely, God sent eight guards disguised as coins to protect them. So people threaded eight coins on red string and placed them under the children's pillows.  This became an annual custom and the monster Sui no longer came near. As the Chinese Character Year (岁suì) has the same pronunciation with the monster's name (祟Suì), the people called the coins Ya Sui Qian, meaning “lucky money warding off the evil spirit”. As time passed, paper notes replaced the coins and the envelope replaced the thread.

Share the blessing: Nowadays, money wrapped in red is a gift not only for kids but also elders, relatives, and sometimes friends. Red is the most popular and auspicious color in China, so people use this way to share blessings and happiness to each other.

 

Who gets them?


Children or unmarried members of the younger generation look forward to receiving lucky money from others, something which is definitely not a privilege that adults enjoy. Once an adult has started earning money, they will begin to give the red envelopes in the Spring Festival. As a wage earner, you will be expected to give money nearly to everyone, kids, elders and relatives, but lucky money seldom goes to you.

Kids: Adhering to the old tradition, people should give the kids the lucky money if they start to make money. Those targeted as receivers usually will be their own children, nieces, nephews, as well as friends' and colleagues' kids. Greetings like wishes for good health and happiness usually go along with the luck money.

Elders: People who are bread winners, are expected to give money wrapped in red paper to their parents and grandparents. This is a gift to show respect and a grateful heart.

Employees: The boss in a company will distribute the red envelopes to employees in the working days preceding the Chinese New Year. However, in southern China, people are likely to give “a start back to work” packet (Li Shi) when employees return after the Spring Festival.

Acquaintances' children: If coming across an acquaintance with kids, you need to send the packets as well.

 

How much to put in a red envelope?


There are no set answers to this question and individuals decide according to their financial status. The amount also varies between close and distant relationships. Hereunder are common examples in China for your reference:

Relative's kids: RMB 200 - 1,000
Other acquaintances' children: RMB 50 - 100
Parents and grandparents: RMB 500 - 2,000
Elder relatives: RMB 300 - 1,000
Employees: RMB 50 - 500

In some areas, people weigh heavily on giving lucky money, and the sky-high value of a red envelope becomes a hot issue. In some large cities, kids may receive big red packets with amazing sums varying from RMB 2,000 - 10,000. This leads to a financial burden on an average family, and the expenditure can be a large proportion of the entire Chinese New Year cost. Meanwhile, this situation also spoils the children, who can become accustomed to thinking that they can reap without sowing.

Money in Lucky Amount
People prefer to receive lucky money in lucky amounts. You may wonder what amount will be regarded as auspicious. In the northern region of China, the integral and even number amount are popular, such as 100, 200, 500, 800 and 1000 whereas sums such as 250, 400 or 740 should be avoided. In the south, people will choose to send packets with money in an amount of RMB 88, 666, 888 or 999, as these figures are considered auspicious. Such numbers usually imply a blessing for an increasing wealth and a smooth development.

 

How to give?


Crisp Bills
Most people will be glad to receive new cash, so you'd better acquire some crisp new notes from banks in advance. Some people will wrap change in the envelope, and so puff up the packet.

Right Moment
When you set out on a New Year's visit, you need to seize the right moment to present the red packet. Once you arrive at your host's home, you are should pass the red packets to them when shaking hands or greeting each other. If they have children, give the lucky money straight away, too. Do not wait to do it when it is time to say farewell.

 

Etiquettes on Receiving a Red Envelope


When you receive a red packet, first you should say thanks and express your blessing to the donor. It is impolite to open the envelope immediately and check the amount in front of them, which reverses the etiquette in western countries where gifts are opened before the givers. People will feel embarrassed if you do that. When you have New Year visitors, they may give you the lucky money but you should not give your packet to them at once. It is more like an exchange, but not a way of sharing.

 

Wechat Red Envelope


Wechat is now one of the most widely-used social media in China. With a large number of users, the Wechat Red Envelope App has also become popular in recent years. During the Spring Festival, young people are inclined to send Wechat envelopes to each other as a way of greeting. It is fast and convenient way to contact with friends from afar.

What's more, people can also grab the cyber envelopes as they watch the live Chinese New Year TV Gala. They just shake phones ceaselessly to gain random amounts of money. The funny part is that some people will shake their phones to destruction and get no more than a few cents.

 

Other Occasions to Give Red Envelopes

The tradition also features on other jubilant occasions. In China, people present a red packet when attending wedding ceremonies or senior people's birthday parties. The envelopes are also presented when people visit a newborn baby.

 Further Reading: 
Chinese New Year Gift Ideas
Ten Gifts to be Avoided
New Year Customs and Activities
Chinese New Year for Kids
Differences on Celebrations between North and South China