Chinese Red Envelope
Why give the red envelopes?
Protection against Monster:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
How to give?
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.
Read more about 8 Features of Present-day Chinese New Year
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.
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Also, we will be with the bride's family in her village near Mianyang during Spring Festival (their wedding is 1/31) I know to be prepared with envelopes - especially for her grandmother and nephew - but I don't know - would it be a fun treat to get a crisp new US bill? Or should we attempt to get new Chinese bills once we arrive?