Chinese New Year Red Envelope: How to Give

For Chinese families, Chinese New Year is the most significant and joyous occasion of the year. In addition to the lavish New Year's Eve feast with a variety of lucky foods and the New Year decorations that add to the celebration, this unique festival also features an essential old tradition: giving children New Year red envelopes (Mandarin: hongbao; Cantonese: lai see) with lucky money inside. This custom serves as a blessing and an expectation from the older generations to the younger ones, in addition to being a traditional financial gift.

But what is red envelope? Is it exclusive to Lunar New Year? And how much money should you put in a red envelope for Chinese New Year? Giving out red envelopes involves a lot of customs and unwritten laws from Chinese culture. So being a little careless can cause unnecessary confusion and embarrassment. Read on to learn more.

Chinese New Year red envelopes

What does the Red Envelope Mean in Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year Red Envelope, is also known as New Year's money (ya sui qian) or retaining "sneaky" money ("sneaky" is something unlucky. This tradition dates back to ancient people, who used it to wish for good luck in the upcoming year). After the New Year's Eve dinner, the elders would hand out pre-prepared New Year's Eve money to the younger generation, who would then be able to spend the year in peace and security.

New Year's money in Chinese folk culture means to ward off evil spirits, blessing peace. People believed that children were vulnerable to ghosts and spirits, so they used New Year's money to ward off evil spirits and drive away evil spirits. On the morning of the first day of the first month, the younger generation pays New Year's greetings to their elders, who give them New Year's money.

Generally, on New Year's Eve, mothers place the money, which is sealed with red paper, under the child's pillow. When she puts the money under the child's pillow, the mother will say something like wishing the children peace and healthy growth.

Throughout history, there have been two types of New Year hong bao. One is given by the elders to the younger ones. The other is given to the elderly by the younger generations, with the intention of wishing them a long life.

The Origin of Chinese New Year red envelope

There is a long-standing legend about the giving out New Year hong bao to children. A long time ago, there was a demon called "Sneaky" that came out on New Year's Eve to harm children. When it touched a child's forehead with its hand, the child would cry and had a fever, and when the fever subsided, the child would become a fool.

It was Chinese New Year's Eve again, a couple strung eight coins on a red string to amuse their children. In the middle of the night, a gust of wind blew out the lamps and candles, and "Sneaky" slipped in. When the "Sneaky" handed to the child's forehead, the string of coins on the child's pillow suddenly issued a bright flash of snow, scared "Sneaky" fled in fear.

After this story spread, people used red thread to string eight coins on the night of New Year's Eve and put them on the child's pillow. Sure enough, "Sneaky" no longer come to the disaster and pestilence. Originally, the eight coins coincide with the number of the eight immortals, its magic power can lower the "evil spirits" to dispel the disaster.

Since then, this string of copper coins specially designed for children to avoid disasters is known as "ya sui qian". According to the evidence, giving children lucky money in the Spring Festival has been popular since at least the late Ming Dynasty.

Chinese New Year red envelope decoration


How much money should you put in a red envelope for Chinese New Year?

  • In general, one's financial ability is taken into consideration when allocating New Year's money.
  • It might also depend on how close you are to that individual. The closer the relationship, then the more money is given out.
  • You can refer to local or family traditions and customs to see how much people of your own generation give , so that you can decide how much you want to put in a red envelope.
  • Chinese New Year red envelope money are suggested to be in even numbers, and avoid 250, 300 and 400.
  • What are the Lucky Chinese Numbers on the Red Envelope?

    1. The number “2”. In most parts of China, there is a saying that "good things come in pairs", and "2" is the most commonly used celebratory number. When giving New Year's money, you can't go wrong with 2 yuan, 20 yuan, 200 yuan, and so on.

    2. The number “6”. 6 is a traditional Chinese lucky number, and represents "good weather", "smooth sailing", and good fortune. Giving your child "66", "600", "666", and so on for Chinese New Year is a wise choice.

    3. The number 8 that symbolises wealth. Giving your child "88", "800" or "888" at Chinese New Year is very auspicious.

    4. The number 9 is also a lucky number in China as it represents longevity.

    What are the Unlucky Chinese Numbers to Avoid on the Red Envelope?

    1. The number 3, which harmonises with the word "break up", is a taboo number in many areas. Therefore, the number 3 should not appear on the day of celebration, otherwise the host family may think that you intend to destroy the stability of the family.

    2. The number 4 is one of the most taboo numbers in China. "4" is the same as "death". This number doesn't appear anywhere. For example, some hotels don't have a "4th floor", nor do they have a "4" in the door number. So don’t put “4” money in New Year red envelope.

    3. The number “13” is an unlucky number for some Westerners, so today many Chinese people have started to avoid the number 13 as well. After all, we don't want any bad luck on a happy day.

    Chinese New Year red envelope money

    Who Should Give Out / Receive the Red Envelope for Chinese New Year?

    Who Can Receive


    2.Young people who have not yet married

    3.Those are in school

    4.Parents, grandparents, and other close elders will receive Chinese New Year red envelopes from the younger generation

    Who Should Give out

    1.Parents should give out hong bao to all juniors who are not yet working, including their own children and children of relatives.

    2.Grandparents should give out hong bao to their grandchildren and grandchildren who are not yet working.

    3.If you are already working, you need to send hong bao to your parents, grandparents and other close elders.

    Tips on How to Give and Get a Red Envelope

    If you’re giving out an red envelope:
  • Put new money in red envelopes. You may want to go to the bank and get some new money wrapped in a special red envelope for Chinese New Year.
  • Try to be consistent with the amount of money given to the younger generation. Avoid determining the amount of red envelope based on age.
  • If you are giving a hong bao to a junior, make sure you give it in front of the child's parents.
  • When giving Chinese New Year red envelops, make sure to say words of blessing, like, I wish you a prosperous year of the Dragon, good health, family happiness, all the best, etc.

  • If you’re receiving an red envelope:
  • When accepting a red envelope, you should take it with both hands and then say thank you, happy new year and other blessings to the person who gave it.
  • Never open a red envelope and count the money in front of the person who send it to you. It is very impolite behaviour!
  • Lunar New Year red envelopes

    Additional Occasions to Give Red Envelopes

    Since red is associated with celebration, luck, and happiness in Chinese culture, red envelopes are frequently used to express gratitude, blessings, and celebration on a variety of occasions. In addition to Chinese New Year, Chinese people also send red envelopes during the following festivals:

  • Wedding ceremony: The guests need give red envelopes to the newlyweds, and the newlyweds need also give red envelopes to the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and other people that help hold the wedding ceremony.
  • The 100th Day of the baby
  • A housewarming party
  • Birthday banquet (usually for 60th/70th/80th birthday)
  • Comforting the loss of a friend or relative
  • Soothing a sick friend
  • FAQ on Chinese New Year red envelope

    ★Can I give coins in a red envelope for the Lunar New Year?

    Yes, you can.

    The earliest Chinese New Year's money appeared in the Han Dynasty, which were ancient minted coins. These were not commercially circulated currency, but rather a coin-shaped item worn to ward off evil spirits. On the back of the coin, there were various designs, such as dragon and phoenix, turtle and snake, double fish, sword, stars and buckets.

    ★For the Lunar New Year, can I put a large tip in a red envelope?

    Yes, you can. The red envelope money stands for your thoughts and blessings, and depends on your financial ability.

    ★Can Wechat red envelopes replace traditional red envelopes?

    If you are giving red envelopes to a person from a different place, Wechat red envelope is nice choice. However, it is recommended to give traditional red envelopes if you are in the same city. Paper red envelopes are more ritualistic.

    Keep reading:

  • Top Ten Legends and Stories about Chinese New Year
  • 15-Day Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year

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